All skin types, no matter if you have dry or oily skin, you need a good moisturiser. We know that looking for that perfect moisturiser can be a hassle, especially with the overwhelming options we have on the market. So today, we are going to decode your moisturiser! Understanding what is inside your moisturiser will help you choose the best one for your skin.
What is a Moisturiser?
A moisturiser is basically a product that can prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL) from our skin. People with oily skin already have the ability to retain moisture from the natural oil produced by their skin. Therefore they will need less of that 'occlusive' moisturiser. Meanwhile, on the other hand, those with drier skin will need more of an occlusive moisturiser to lock in moisture that they can't naturally retain since they lack oil production. We'll talk more about the basic of moisturiser in the following section!
Things in common about moisturisers
There are things in common in all moisturisers; they contained blends of humectants, emollients and occlusive. It's like adding spices to your dishes. The amount you put for each of the ingredients will significantly determine the final taste of your food. Each of these ingredients have their unique properties, therefore knowing them can help you estimate the texture of your moisturiser from looking at their ingredients list. The ratio of each of this ingredient is the one that determines the differences in your moisturiser.
Humectants vs Emollients vs occlusive
Best for: All skin types
A humectant is a water-attracting molecule. It pulls water either from the environment or even the dermis layer of your skin.
Example of humectants are:
- Hyaluronic acid
- Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA)
- Aloe Vera
- Sodium Hyaluronate
- Propylene Glycol
Humectants generally have a light and watery texture suitable for all skin types. Due to its water-attracting properties, it can help plump up your skin and helps fade fine lines and wrinkles, although this effect is quite temporary. One thing that you should note is that humectants can't be a stand-alone ingredient in a moisturiser because, without the companion of the other emollients and occlusive, humectants can draw too much moisture from the deeper layer of your skin when you are in a dry environment, like on the aeroplane.
Glycerin is one of the most frequently seen ingredients used in cosmetics, especially moisturisers. Glycerin, also known as glycerol, is a natural compound derived from vegetable oils. It works as a humectant and pulls water into the outer layer of our skin. It is clear, colourless, odourless, affordable, and relatively easy to formulate. Therefore, you can see them on almost all your moisturising products.
Best for: All skin types
Emollient is an oilier substance that helps to fill in the space and gap between the edges of the dead skin cells. Emollient form a film on top of our skin and soften its surface.
Examples of emollients:
- Fatty acids
- Plant-based oils (jojoba oil, olive oil)
- Colloidal oatmeal
Emollients are ingredients that can prevent moisture loss by filling in the gap between the damaged skin barrier. Emollients have a heavier texture to them. All skin types can benefit from it, although people with dehydrated and drier skin are the ones that can get the best out of it.
Best for: Dry and sensitive skin
Lastly, it's the occlusive. The occlusive forms a physical barrier on the top layer of our skin and prevents water loss. It works like a cup lid that prevents your water from evaporating.
Examples of occlusives:
- Shea butter
- Cocoa butter
- Mineral oil
- Mineral oil (petroleum)
As the main standard of an occlusive, Petroleum has been shown to be the most effective occlusive that can reduce transepidermal water loss by more than 98%.
Occlusives have the heaviest texture out of them all. It may feel a little bit too suffocating for oily skin type and suit best for extremely dry skin. It is best to pair the occlusive-rich product with other hydrating ingredients to hydrate your skin before sealing it with an occlusive. Another way is to directly apply it straight after taking a shower on damp skin.
Why we need a moisturiser and prevent water loss on our skin?
Water is an essential component of our skin to keep its function intact, which is the first layer of barrier that keeps our skin away from the irritants from environments.
A damaged skin barrier is something that happens now and then, especially after you cleanse your face. When our skin barrier is damaged, the water content on our skin can easily escape and seep through the gap leaving our skin dehydrated.
Do you know that the cleansing process is one of the most important but at the same time can cause most water loss from your skin? Therefore, we need to put back all that moisture to keep our skin function properly after we cleanse our face.
When you have an oily skin type, you may need less heavy-duty moisturisers than dry skin type. The sebum on your skin will act as a natural moisturiser that keeps the water content on your skin. However, if you have very dry and sensitive skin, you will need a more heavy-duty, rich, and occlusive product.
Ointment, Creams, and Emulsion: What are the differences and which type suits you best?
You may be wondering what the differences between all these different skincare product types are? Most of these products claim to somehow either hydrate or moisturise your skin. It's just the ratio of either humectants, emollients, and occlusive that makes the differences:
An ointment is rich in more occlusive. That's why it is very thick and sits on top of your skin to keep that moisture level on your skin. It fits best for drier skin types. A cream is a little bit more unpredictable. The ratio of either of these ingredients may vary, and that's why it depends on the formulation itself. Emulsion, which is a lot lighter, usually contains more of the humectants component than emollient and occlusive. This type of product fits best for oily skin.
|(A) >> (Z)||A lot more of A than Z|
|(A) > (Z)||More of A than Z|
|(A) = (Z)||Equal amount of A and Z|
|Product Type||Composition of Occlusives, Emollients and Humectants|
|Ointment||Occlusive >> Emollients >> Humectants|
|Sleeping Mask||Occlusive > Emollients > Humectants|
|Cream||Occlusive = Emollients = Humectants|
|Emulsion or lotions||Humectant > Emollients > Occlusive|
|Toner||Humectant > Emollients|
Are there any differences between moisture and hydration?
We often see the word hydration and moisture used interchangeably in the skincare world. So are there any differences? Hydrating means adding water content to the skin. It includes washing your face with water where it adds hydration to your skin. But it doesn't mean that it will help your skin retain the moisture. Moisturising products add hydration to your skin and help retain them.
Essentially, hydration only is not enough, and we require something that can help retain the moisture. When you have oilier skin, you can trap that water with your natural sebum production. However, if you have drier skin, it is most likely that the hydration you put will seep through and evaporate from your skin.
Does it mean that you don't need a moisturiser when you have oily skin? The answer is no because when you have oily skin doesn't mean you have hydrated skin. Although the sebum can trap the hydration, if there's not enough water, to begin with, it means that your skin is oily but dehydrated. You can look for products with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, urea or AHA that can help attract moisture as your skin provides the oil to trap them in.
A lightweight moisturiser which nourishes skin without adding more oil to the skin. It also contains Houttuynia Cordata to control sebum production, keeping the oils at bay whilst hydrating skin.
Our skin loses most moisture at night
Just like our body clock for sleeping patterns, our skin has its own body clock as well. Night time is the prime time for our skin to repair and rejuvenate. However, at the same time, our skin barrier is most permeable, prone to water loss at night. This is why we often hear that we have to put on more layers of moisture on our skin at night.
When you often feel your skin is dry and flaky the following day, it signals that your moisturiser is not effective enough on retaining moisture. You can try to layer your moisturiser on top of another sleeping mask or facial oil. This more occlusive product will help your skin stay hydrated and moist throughout the night.
Librarian Tip: Get yourself a humidifier to keep the moisture level in the air high, especially for your beauty sleep. As we mentioned, our skin is prone to dehydration throughout the night. When the air is humid, your moisturiser with humectant can help attract moisture from the environment to hydrate your skin. It can be an excellent long-term investment for your skin.
Librarian moisturiser recommendation for night-time use:
A 3-in-1 product that can be used as an overnight mask to lock in all the moisture while you catch up on some well-deserved sleep.
This soothing moisturiser is formulated with skin-barrier repairing ingredients, so it can help heal a damaged skin barrier whilst you sleep.
Our skin may need a different moisturiser in a different season
Our skin is an ever-changing organ. The weather can significantly affect how our skin produces sebum and therefore also affect the moisture level that we need. Our skin produces less sebum during the wintertime, and the air can be super dry. That is why we need a more occlusive and layer on more moisturiser during this time. While during the hot summer season. Our skin tends to produce more sebum (function as a natural moisturiser), and the air is more humid. We can opt for a lighter moisturiser that contains more humectants in it. This is why it is crucial for you to switch out your products depending on the season and how your skin feels. Always listen to your skin!
Winter: Less humid, produce less oil - Need more hydration and occlusive moisturiser
Summer: More humid, produce more oil - Hydrate moderately and moisturise as needed
Librarian moisturiser recommendation:
This cream is enriched with jojoba seed oil, sunflower seed oil and some other skin-benefiting plant-based oil. This oil will provide that extra layer of moisture to prevent trans-epidermal water loss.
Wild Yam root extract, macadamia seed oil and shea butter all together will help lock in that long-lasting moisture your skin has been craving for.
This is a lightweight moisturiser which is formulated to provide long-lasting hydration. It has a gel texture which ensures no sticky sensation upon application, perfect for the summer.
A lightweight moisturiser that hydrates your skin but won't leave that greasy feeling. It gives that instant moisture while nourishing your skin with antioxidants to calm skin redness or irritation.
How age affects our skin
As we age, our skin loses more of its ability to retain moisture because our skin produces less of its barrier component and our skin cell regeneration slows down. The reason why you may experience more dehydrated and dull skin compared to your younger self. When the time comes, it means that you should step up your moisturising game. Creamier moisturisers with more emollients and occlusives can help restore your skin moisture and plumpness several years back.
Aeroplane skincare routine – keep your skin moisturised
We get this question all the time: how you should care for your skin when you are in an aeroplane with recycled, poor air quality and low humidity level. Moreover, it can be pretty challenging to do your skincare routine while keeping things hygienic at the same time. Here are our tips to keep our skin moisturised during your fly:
For a short – flight:
Wash your face and apply a heavy-duty moisturiser that contains a higher ratio of occlusive before your flight. If you're applying enough before the flight, you don't have to touch your face or do your skincare on the plane. It is the best option to keep your face clean and moisturised throughout the flight.
A deep cleansing gel which does not strip the skin of its natural moisture barrier. Start your flight routine with this cleanser to ensure a non-irritating cleanse before sealing in moisture.
For a long-haul flight:
Prepare micellar water and pre-packed cotton pads. You can wipe your face with it before you go to sleep, have a sheet mask on for a while to add some hydration back to your skin, and don't forget to end your routine with a nourishing moisturiser to lock in all the hydration.
Takeaway: A moisturiser is something essential for everyone. Have you found your favourite moisturiser? We curated some of our favourite K-beauty moisturisers at Skin Library.
- By Claudia Christin (@Funskincare)
MBBS, Ph.D. (Dermatology)
Ghadially et al., 1992. Effects of Petrolatum on Stratum Corneum Structure and Function. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, [e-journal] 26, pp. 387-96.