What moisturizer should I use? How do I pick a moisturizer suitable for my dry and sensitive skin? What’s the difference between creams, oils, serums and mists?
I wrote a previous article about cleansing your skin here, and now it’s about time we get down to step two of a basic skin care routine — the moisturizer.
As a skin scientist with a passion for gentle products I look at moisturizers a bit differently. I’m specifically interested in how different ingredients will hydrate, protect and take care of our skin.
The reason why we want to hydrate our skin is to keep it well protected. Different types of moisturizers have different functions:
- To add a protective layer to our skin surface in dry weather or when we experience irritated or very dry skin. We call this type of moisturizer “occlusive”. These moisturizers prevent the loss of water from the skin. The most common ingredients are unfortunately not very green as they are petroleum derivatives or mineral oils such as paraffin, but they have been endorsed by dermatologists for many years and have been proven to help the most delicate skins. A green alternative to look for is castor oil.
- To add water into our skin to prevent dryness. This type of moisturizer is called a “humectant”. These moisturizers act like sponges by attracting water into the skin. Hyaluronic acid is a popular humectant that you will find in some creams and serums.
- Some moisturizers make our skin softer and smoother to the touch, these are known as “emollients”. They can be occlusive if at a high concentration. A good example of this is Squalane oil, which is a personal favorite of mine.
You will find moisturizers with one or several of the qualities above on the market. If you have very dry skin or are experiencing harsh weather conditions, such as a lot of sun, wind or cold temperatures, look for a moisturizer with occlusive qualities. For everyday hydration choose a moisturizer formulated with either humectants such as Hyaluronic acid, for example this one by The Ordinary, or natural emollients such as Squalane oil by The Ordinary.
We’ve all been there. At the store browsing the shelf for the perfect product to keep our skin hydrated and healthy. What to pick - an oil, cream, or mist? Or all of them..?
Creams are usually a mix of two insoluble liquids: water and oil with the addition of what is known as a surfactant that will help mix the two together. This creates the white creamy texture. The downside of cream is the number of ingredients you need to add to have a stable product. As it contains water they also need to have preservatives to avoid contamination and increase the product’s shelf life.
Oils consist of a blend of one or several oils together with the potential addition of fragrances and antioxidants. Personally, I prefer using oils as they require less ingredients to work well. However, be mindful when shopping for oils as some products contain water and other ingredients. Pro-tip: Check the ingredients and pick a product with the shortest ingredient list. This goes especially if you have sensitive skin which may become irritated by added fragrance or essential oils.
If you are just looking for a quick boost to your skin, why not try a mist? Make sure the product is moisturizing and doesn't contain any harsh chemicals such as alcohol. It can be as simple as Thermal Water by Avene that is rich in skin-boosting minerals. Some mists with probiotics have been shown to help with boosting skin health, try it yourself with the Mother Dirt Probiotic mist.
What’s the deal with serums? Serums prior task is not to moisturize but to deliver a high concentration of actives such as anti-aging ingredients. They should be applied as the first layer on your skin after cleansing. It is recommended to add the moisturizer after this step.
When choosing your moisturizer, consider your skin type and the climate you live in. For colder climates and very dry skin you may need to look for a richer cream with occlusive ingredients. For warmer and more humid climates you may find a lighter moisturizer or mist to be enough. Do you have sensitive skin? Be careful with fragrance, preservatives and long ingredient lists in general.
If you like the idea of oils, I recommend using Squalane oil. It’s very light, hydrating, and absorbs quickly into the skin. While in the past they used to manufacture Squalane from sharks (!) these days thankfully they produce the oil from olives or sugar cane. To be safe, make sure your Squalane comes from a vegetarian source. This should be written on the packaging and also make sure it is a cosmetic grade (very pure and from a reliable supplier). You can purchase Squalane from The Ordinary.
For creams, I recommend this one from Avene. It’s a sterile cream with no preservatives and fragrances thank to the airless dispenser. The product has been shown to be suitable for the most sensitive skin types. I've also tried this cream from La Roche Posay with great results. If you know of other sterile creams with natural ingredients I would love to hear about it! An alternative to cream can be ointment (cream with no water) for example this SkinFix ointment formulated with no water for eczema. It can help very dry and sensitive skin.
I hope you found this information helpful, don’t hesitate to post your comments below if you have further questions!
Written by Elsa Jungman, P.h.d, Skin Scientist and Co-founder Atelier Namaste
Edited by Karin Karlsson, Co-founder Atelier Namaste