Natural ingredients

Humectants and Hyaluronic Acid in Skincare

Hydration, hydration, hydration.

This is what valuable humectants bring to your skin.

They are the antidote for dehydrated and dry skin conditions.

A lot of terms get tossed around in the beauty world.

Some are easy, and some not so much.

We’re here to help make the muddled world of beauty terminology a little less confusing.

So join us as we explore all things humectants.

Skin Requires Humectants

Hydration is essential for all skin types, whether oily or dry. Dry skin lacks oil, while dehydrated skin lacks water.

In our comprehensive article titled “The Clear Skin Difference: It Begins With Hydration,” we delve into the importance of maintaining skin hydration.

For healthy skin, a balance of both oil-rich and water-rich ingredients is necessary. Natural botanical oils in skincare products, like jojoba or squalane, emulate the skin’s natural oil, sebum.

Conversely, humectant ingredients are water-rich and function similarly to the skin’s sweat, hydrating the skin and preventing water loss.

They play a vital role in maintaining the moisture levels of the stratum corneum and the epidermis, preventing dryness and parched skin.

Understanding Humectants

As this research demonstrates (1). Humectants work by forming hydrogen bonds with water molecules. This makes them crucial ingredients, particularly for individuals with dry or dehydrated skin.

At our company, we prioritise the inclusion of humectants in our formulas due to their remarkable ability to attract and bind water like a magnet.

Some humectants can hold up to 1000 times their weight in water, such as hyaluronic acid, a key component of our H₂O Hydrating Complex, which locks moisture onto the skin’s surface to keep it moist and healthy.

Our product, Quench plumping peptide gel, contains five essential humectants to provide optimal hydration and nourishment for the skin.

Importance of Hydration

Maintaining correct skin hydration is vital for its overall health and function. Water plays a crucial role in numerous skin processes, and its absence can lead to various issues.

Your skin relies on an intercellular communication system to regulate water loss through trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). However, this system can only function optimally when the skin’s barrier function remains intact.

When the moisture barrier is compromised, as seen in cases of impaired hydration, TEWL increases. Consequently, the skin may become rough, dry, and flaky, making it more susceptible to inflammation, irritation, premature ageing, and conditions such as eczema.

Correct hydration is essential for enabling key skin functions, including desquamation, the natural exfoliation process, and the formation of cornified cells, which are crucial for establishing the skin’s protective barrier. This barrier acts as the skin’s first defence against environmental damage.

Factors such as changes in humidity and the use of high-pH cleansers and astringents can further exacerbate trans-epidermal water loss and compound issues related to skin hydration.

Natural Humectants

Our skin naturally contains humectants, collectively known as the skin’s natural moisturising factor (NMF) (2). The NMF forms a protective layer that ensures adequate hydration of the outer skin layer.

The NMF primarily comprises hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, sodium, urea, various sugars, and amino acids such as pyroglutamic acid. It increases the water content of the stratum corneum.

Additionally, specific components like glycerol and urea help retain fluidity in proteins and lipids, even under dehydrating conditions. This ensures that essential skin functions continue, even in challenging environments.

However, these natural humectants diminish with age, leading to sensitivity, inflammation, dehydration, dryness, and inflamed breakouts.

Many skincare products aim to replicate the NMF by combining humectants, emollients, and occlusives. These ingredients are crucial for maintaining soft, supple skin and balancing the barrier repair function.

Without natural humectants, the skin becomes less permeable to water and other beneficial compounds.

Humectants play a vital role in skin hydration and repair, helping to prevent premature ageing and facilitating the penetration of other beneficial ingredients.

Replenishing Humectants

As you age, your skin’s natural level of humectants diminishes, leading to drier and more dehydrated skin.

This is where topical application of skincare products containing humectants becomes crucial for maintaining moisture, plumpness, and youthfulness.

Types of Humectants

  1. Hyaluronic Acid is known for its potent hydrating capabilities. It can hold an impressive amount of water, making it ideal for parched, dehydrated skin.
  2. Glycerine: Also known as glycerine or glycerol, this safe and non-allergenic ingredient is found in natural fats or lipids. It is a powerful humectant, providing long-lasting hydration even after rinsing off the skin.
  3. Urea: Often overlooked but significant, urea is a water-loving agent that comprises about 8% of the natural moisturising factor (NMF). It effectively hydrates the skin and is crucial in maintaining skin health.
  4. Sorbitol: Similar to glycerin, sorbitol is a hydrating agent with comparable benefits. It is often used as an alternative to glycerin in skincare formulations.
  5. Sodium PCA: With properties similar to hyaluronic acid, sodium PCA effectively hydrates the skin, contributing to its overall moisture balance.
  6. Seaweed and Algae: These ingredients, commonly found in hydrating mask formulas, create a protective film over the skin’s surface, helping to retain moisture and nourishing the skin.

Benefits of Urea 

When used at concentrations below 10%, urea is highly effective in hydrating the skin and is a critical component of the NMF. It encourages natural exfoliation, penetrates the skin effectively, and helps regulate microbial balance, contributing to skin barrier function.

Moreover, urea has shown promise in treating conditions like keratosis pilaris and fungal acne, making it a versatile ingredient in skincare formulations.

Despite being a component of urine, urea used in skincare products is synthetically derived, ensuring its safety and efficacy for topical application.

To conclude. The naked truth

Our exploration into the importance of skin hydration underscores the necessity of maintaining a delicate balance between oil-rich and water-rich ingredients.

While natural botanical oils emulate the skin’s sebum, humectant ingredients prevent water loss and hydrate the skin.

Humectants, like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and urea, are hailed for their exceptional ability to attract and retain moisture, essential for combating dryness and dehydration.

By replenishing the skin’s natural moisturising factor (NMF), these ingredients help fortify the skin’s barrier function and ward off conditions like sensitivity, inflammation, and premature ageing.

As we age, the decline in natural humectants underscores the importance of external replenishment through skincare products.

When included in formulations, humectants ensure that the skin remains moist, plump, and youthful despite the ravages of time. They are important. Humectants are potent moisture magnets, but they must be used wisely, especially in environments with low humidity.

The strategic layering of humectant-rich products with moisturisers is essential. They protect against moisture loss, ensuring hydration remains locked in on your skin.

In conclusion, the journey to radiant, healthy skin begins with hydration.

By harnessing the power of humectants and embracing a comprehensive skincare routine, you can achieve supple, resilient, and beautifully hydrated skin for now and for many years to come.


1. Understanding humectant behaviour through their water-holding properties.

2. Natural moisturising factors (NMF) in the stratum corneum (SC). II. Regeneration of NMF over time after soaking

14 replies on “Humectants and Hyaluronic Acid in Skincare”

Hyaluronic Acid (HA) has now superseded collagen as the go-to ingredient. I get my hyaluronic acid from the Made from Earth Plant Stem Cell Moisturizer – its uses botanical hyaluronic acid.

The main effect of this Made from Earth moisturizer is making my skin seem much fuller and plumped up. This doesn’t mean you will look fatter! The skin just looks much more healthy and glowing. It is a more youthful effect all round. It evens out the skin, so the tone is improved and the crow’s feet that were starting to take over are diminished gradually with use.

Just a little bit is needed for one application – I am impressed

Hello, I love your feedback and I have to agree about the fact that it has superseded collagen, hylauronic acid has so many beneficial skin qualities on so many levels. I have to agree it is the perfect anti ageing ingredient, because it is skin identical and starts to deplete in our skin as we mature, i recommend try layering both low molecular hyaluronic weight with regular hyaluronic for fantastic hydrated results. Samantha.

Hi Liz
High and low moleculars weights are different. High molecular sits on the skin and keeps it hydrated, low molecular penetrates deep into the dermis. I recommend Fortify, bio lipid and H20 for an impaired barrier and savior if you have sensitivity. Samantha

Hyaluronic acid works for wrinkles because the molecule swells after it absorbs water, and that plumps lines on the spot. Look for products with hyaluronic acid listed near the top of the ingredient list, cause that means there is alot of it.

Hi really informative thank you. About urea based cream is it helpful for acne prone skin? My skin tends to break out and I tend to get rashes that are weepy then I have to use steroids based creams which I am trying to keep away from. Would this urea based cream help me?

Hi Miranda

An acne prone skin is often an irritated skin, where the acid mantle becomes impaired allowing bacteria under the surface, which causes a chain reaction. Urea is great as an ingredient for acne in terms of acting as a humectant and reducing irritation, although you don’t want high percentages as it may become an irritant.

Hi Samantha, what percentage of urea must have the cream or gel to be used for acne-prone skin.

I really appreciate your help.

My bes Regard


Hi Rocio
Normal amount sit around 3-5%, however some creams are up to 10%, personally my sensitive skin can’t tolerate this, so it is all a matter of trial and error. I hope that helps.

Hi Samantha:

Thank you very much for your attention.

Have a beautiful day

My best regards.

I love your site and your info is so helpful. I’m allergic to coconut, wheat and palm oils and have perioral dermatitis which is controlled as long as I stay away from glycerins, which is in everything. It’s hard to find a moisturizer without the glycerins. I hope to learn so much from your site. Thank you, Victoria

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