Moisturising ingredients in skincare fall under three main categories; occlusives, humectants and emollients.
Occlusives are ingredients that slow down the evaporation of water from the skin by forming a protective layer. Occlusives retain moisture in the stratum corneum by forming a lipid barrier.
Petroleum jelly, mineral oil and silicones are widely used as they are cheap and indeed very effective in preventing moisture loss. However they work by coating (and suffocating) your skin in the same way as placing plastic over it. Whilst they do the job of trapping water, they also prevent your skin from breathing and functioning optimally. Remember your skin is a living, breathing organ and organs don't survive if they are being deprived of oxygen or air.
Natural occlusives are kinder to the skin and the environment as they are biodegradable unlike petroleum derivatives. Natural alternatives include bees wax, shea butter and cocoa butter. They are loaded with nutrients and allow your skin to breathe whilst protecting the barrier function.
Humectants are like magnets that grab water from the surrounding environment and draw it to your skin. Humectants have OH and NH2 groups that form hydrogen bonds with water molecules.
When the weather is particularly dry humectants can potentially draw moisture from the deeper layer of the skin (dermis). This is why humectants need to be combined with occlusive agents to prevent transdermal water loss.
Synthetic humectants include proylene glycol, PEGs ( may be contaminated with carcinogens like ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane), sillicones (suffocates the skin) and urea (been shown to release formaldehyde).
Fortunately there are natural humectants that attract moisture to the surface of the skin. They include aloe, honey, hyaluronic acid and glycerin.
Emollients maintain skin's softness, smoothness and elasticity. They fill in the gaps in the epidermis and crevices between corneocytes.
Synthetic emollients include silicones (dimethicone, cyclomethicone, copolyol), propylene glycol and hydrocarbons (mineral oil, petrolatum, paraffin).
Plant oils such as jojoba, avocado, rosehip and argan make great natural emollients.
Use layering to ensure your skin gets maximum hydration from occlusives, humectants and emollients and apply occlusives over damp skin to trap moisture. Applying a toner, serum and topping it off with a cream based moisturiser is the best method for softening and hydrating skin.
Our picks for super natural and safe hydration:
- Body and face creams by Mokosh