Skin Health Begins with These Moisturising Ingredients

Updated 02/09/20

What is a moisturiser?

It interests me as an aesthetician, that few textbooks in dermatology devote little space to this subject.

No standard definition really exists, yet we use and recommend moisturisers daily?

Technically a moisturising treatment involves this 4-step process:

  • Repairing the skin barrier
  • Increasing water content
  • Reducing trans-epidermal moisture loss (TEWL)
  • Restoring the lipid barriers ability to attract, hold and redistribute water

In my opinion, they are a vital part of the skincare routine when it comes to skin health.

So join me as I decode your moisturiser, so you can appreciate, how much of a role it plays in the health of your skin.

Your Guide to the Beautifying Benefits of Moisturising

  • they replenish natural oils on the surface of the skin
  • a well-formulated SPF moisturiser can prevent signs of photo-ageing
  • they provide a soothing, occlusive film, helping to calm inflammation
  • an emollient moisturiser will help to keep the skin soft, supple and youthful
  • they can contain cosmeceuticals that help to improve the appearance of ageing skin.
  • an antioxidant-rich moisturiser prevents free radicals from causing ageing oxidation
  • a humectant rich moisturiser will help to lock in moisture and maintain hydration, slowing evaporation
  • balancing ingredients can be incorporated, that will slow down the flow of sebum to the surface of the skin
  • a gentle, intelligently formulated moisturiser will replenish the delicate microflora that makes up the acid mantle
  • moisturisers can contain lightening and brightening ingredients, helping to pull deep-rooted pigmentation from within the skin’s tissues
  • they cover tiny fissures in the skin, filling the cement-like substance between the cell walls to maintain the all-important protective barrier function

How do moisturisers work?

Traditionally, they were believed to inhibit transepidermal water loss. Water begins in the deep epidermal layers and moves up to hydrate cells in the stratum corneum the outer layer of skin, eventually being lost to evaporation. The occlusive moisturisation helps to prevent the dehydration of the stratum corneum. Fortunately, today much more is now known about the function and skin layers.

The “bricks and mortar” model we discuss here, suggests that its role is as an active membrane. Loss of intercellular lipids, such as important ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids, which form the bilayers of the skin can damage the barrier function, causing a whole host of skin conditions.

Our skin has a Natural Moisturising Factor (NMF), which contains a mixture of amino acids, lactates, urea, and electrolytes, which help the stratum corneum to retain water. Typically a dry skin occurs when the moisture content is less than 10%.

The Components That Create a Moisturiser

There are several groups of substances that are based on their activity on the skin:


Occlusives form a film over the surface of the skin, creating a protective barrier and preventing TEWL. Follow the link to find out more about these important ingredients.

Humectant Rich Ingredients

Humectants attract water when applied to the skin and improve hydration of the stratum corneum.

The skin’s natural moisturising factor the NMF is made up of a mix of these low molecular weight soluble hygroscopic substances including; glycerin, sorbitol, urea, amino acids, sodium PCA, alpha-hydroxy acids such as lactic acid and other sugars. This natural compound is known to be a major player in keeping skin hydrated and flexible.

NMF moisturiser (coming soon) contains all of the following skin-identical ingredients – urea, amino acids, glycerin, sorbitol, hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. which works to increase the cohesion of the stratum corneum cells, preparing the barrier function, maintaining the skin’s natural moisture function whilst reducing roughness and scaling, keeping skin soft, supple, plump, and youthful.

What you have to be careful of with humectants, is that water that is drawn to the skin is trans-epidermal water, not atmospheric water. Continued evaporation from the skin can actually exacerbate dryness, this is the reason why we suggest layering your humectant based products such as our H20 complex with an occlusive ingredient.

Emollient Ingredients

These ingredients give a product that immediate feel of moisturisation.

Emollients improve skin texture by smoothing the skin and offering great slip. They play an important role in binding desquamating corneocytes in the epidermis, filling in the spaces between the skin flakes like mortar between bricks with droplets of oil.

When combined with an emulsifier, they hold both oil and water in the stratum corneum. Vitamin E is a common additive, as are cholesterol, squalene, jojoba, and structural lipids.

Stearic, linoleic, linolenic, oleic, and lauric – found in palm oil, coconut oil, and wool fat. are long-chain saturated fatty acids and fatty alcohols These change the properties of intracellular lipids in the stratum corneum. They are used in topical cosmetic formulations, where they exert their benefits through effects on the skin barrier and permeability.

Essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic, work by influencing skin physiology via their beneficial effects on the skin barrier functions, membrane fluidity, and cell signaling.

Structural lipids are intracellular lipids located between the stratum corneum cells, they play a major role in the water-holding capacity of the skin. Ceramides are a major component of the inner cellular lipids and are vital in maintaining skin health and improving dry skin conditions.

Do Moisturisers that Contain Collagen Actually Work?

Collagen and other proteins, such as keratin and elastin, claim to rejuvenate the skin by replenishing essential proteins within the skin. This is unlikely to happen since protein molecules are too large to penetrate the epidermis. When these ingredients are applied topically they shrink slightly, providing a temporary protein film that appears to smooth the skin and stretch fine lines.

The Topical Application of AHA’S in Moisturisers

Alpha hydroxy acid like glycolic and lactic acid absorb deep within the skin tissues. Because of their small molecular structure, they are able to dissolve surface cells that adhere to the skin’s surface, making the skin smooth and more hydrated.

The naked truth

As you can see different classes of moisturisers are based on their action, whether that be occlusive, hydrating as an emollient, or protein rejuvenation.

When considering skin health, having a fundamental understanding of the physiochemical effects of moisturisers and how they interact with the skin and barrier function gives us an added advantage as formulators, on how best to develop physiologically effective products for the prevention and treatment of skin types and their related skin conditions.

To that end, we believe as a company, we are in a really strong position to help people get real results with their skin, through the topical application of intelligently formulated products.

The importance moisturising:
Why moisturising your face is important:
5 reasons to moisturise your skin:
The role of moisturisers: s://

2 thoughts on “Skin Health Begins with These Moisturising Ingredients

  1. Conrad Zimmerman says:


    Interesting article. I have had extremely dry skin most of my life and nothing works better than plain old Vaseline. It is ofcourse heavy so I only use it at night, a layer it all over my face, neck and decollete or just on the dry spots. I have tried most “Natural” alternatives coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, sunflower, almond, sweet almond, camelia, rosehip, you name it I’ve tried it and I simple don’t believe there is anything more occlusive than Vaseline. Certainly Vaseline doesn’t contain any anti-oxidants or skin repairing ingredients however I find it just stays put and doesn’t fade away unlike most cream, lotions or “Natural” emollient plant oils.

    Is there any research to suggest that there is any other ingredient capable of surpassing the occlusive nature of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly?

    I’m surprised at your reaction to it being associated with Petroleum byproducts which I do agree it is, however from what I have read and heard, and also by law, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Paraffin etc are all highly refined for cosmetic use.

    I also believe since we have been using it for so long, it really is one of our oldest medicine cabinet staples, that we really should be seeing something now if it is as harmful as these “natural” hippies would have us believe.

    • Verified Author Samantha Miller replied:

      Your article made me review my post actually and I am suprised to date no one else has brought this up.

      But I am all about transparency in beauty and actually purified petroleum (which is a natural by product) used in the cosmetic industry does have it’s place in my opinion. Sometimes when my skin is burning like a belisha beacon and when nothing else will do, I have used purified vaseline which works as a fantastic occlusive helping to trap water into the top layers of the skin, I find it protects my skin until it heals, and I usually apply it at night.
      However in saying that, I am working on a natural vaseline which is giving me some really great results formulated with lovely butters and tamuna oil…

      There are however lots of reasons why I would not recommend this product to my clients on a permanent’s pore clogging, it doesn’t let the skin breathe, it traps dirt close to the skins tissues and you can never be sure of quality, because not all Vaseline products are created equally…..

      Thanks for your interesting comment and everyone is different soif it works for you, then stick with it!

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