Using a skin moisturiser is a really important part of looking after our skin – and should be an essential part of your everyday skincare routine. Without moisturising, skin can become dry and lose some of its dewy glow.
Skin draws moisture from a range of sources, including:
- The environment
- Your diet
- Skincare routines
This means moisturising is one of the key pillars of skin hydration and something you should be doing every day. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what moisturiser is, how it works and why it’s beneficial to your skin.
In this guide:
- What is moisturiser?
- The different types of skin moisturisers
- The benefits of moisturiser
- What does moisturiser do?
- Skin moisturiser: FAQs
What is moisturiser?
A moisturiser is a product that raises the water content in your skin and then locks in that moisture. Moisturisers commonly come as creams, lotions, and other topical products that can be used to hydrate and soothe dry, scaly, or itchy skin.
How does moisturiser work?
Normally, the skin’s outer layer acts as a natural defence, keeping dirt and bacteria out and locking water in. You can think of the skin’s barrier like a brick wall – with your cells acting as the bricks and the natural oil (known as sebum) like the mortar. However, if that protective wall becomes damaged or dehydrated, it can start to dry out as it struggles to retain moisture.
Common causes of dry skin can include:
- Environmental changes
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Skin tone
There are two different types of moisturising ingredients: humectants and occlusives. Humectants (like hyaluronic acid and glycerin) attract moisture to the outer layer of the skin from the environment and deeper layers of the skin. Occlusives (such as mineral oil) sit on the surface of the skin to help lock in moisture. There are also ingredients, such as lipids and ceramides, which help repair the skin’s natural barrier.
The different types of skin moisturisers
There are several forms of skin moisturising products rather than just one type of ‘moisturiser’. This means it can be confusing if you aren’t sure which type of skin moisturiser is best for you. Below are some of the main examples of types of moisturisers, so you can see how each type works and which one may be right for you.
Creams can help hydrate the skin and are typically light enough to use during the day, particularly on less hairy parts of the body. Creams are often a popular choice for everyday use on both the face and the rest of the body as they’re usually easy to apply, non-greasy and absorbed quickly.
Lotions are typically thinner than creams as their main ingredient is water. This means they’re a good moisturiser for oily skin. Because they’re lighter and less likely to stick, they’re also a popular option for hairier parts of the body.
Serums are thin, water-based gels that you can rub on your face or neck as part of your daily skincare routine. Because of their light texture and high water content, they typically absorb into the skin quickly and easily. They’re also rich in nutrients and formulated for specific skin types or problems, such as dryness and wrinkles.
Moisturising sprays (or mists) are thin, water-based moisturisers available as either an aerosol can or pump spray bottle. They’re quick to absorb and give dry and normal skin a quick burst of moisture. Sprays are also good for hard-to-reach areas, and generally need less rubbing or smoothing into the skin.
Balms– also called ointments – are good for very dry, sensitive and/or thickened skin. They’re often better suited to night-time use as they can be very thick.
The benefits of moisturiser
There are many benefits to regularly using a moisturiser, including:
Softens the skin
Regularly using a skin moisturiser helps keep the skin looking and feeling healthy. Moisturisers plump the skin and help reduce dryness and tightness of dehydrated skin.
Creates a barrier to lock in moisture
Occlusive moisturisers can help raise the water content in the skin by covering the top layer with a protective film, preventing moisture from escaping.
Help relieve itching
Moisturisers are often used to soothe the itchiness caused by dry or scaly skin. Look for hypoallergenic products that are formulated to reduce irritation and allergic reactions, which could make your itching worse.
What does moisturiser do?
There is no single way to add moisture to the skin. That’s both good and bad news, depending on how you look at it. It means there are plenty of options out there to suit your skin – but it also means there can be an overwhelming amount of choice.
It’s a good idea to look at the ingredients of your chosen moisturiser, as there are multiple types that help keep your skin hydrated, both on the face and body, and each one will work in a slightly different way.
Moisturisers help to smooth the skin’s surface to create a softer texture, filling the gaps and cracks that make your skin feel rough. They can also help repair and strengthen the skin’s natural protective barrier.
Skin moisturisers can usually be split into two categories based on their ingredients: occlusives and humectants. The best skin moisturiser products will contain both types of ingredients (occlusives and humectants) as the humectant helps to draw water into the skin, but it’s the occlusives which help to lock that water in.
These skin moisturisers create a barrier on the surface of your skin to lock in moisture and keep irritants, allergens, and other harmful particles from being able to enter your skin.
Common occlusive ingredients:
- Petroleum jelly: For some skin conditions, petroleum jelly can really help lock in the water and nutrients your skin needs, while keeping out the dirt and bacteria that could be making your condition, and therefore your dry, itchy skin , worse. However, petroleum jelly can’t fix all skin concerns, and you should avoid using it on your face if you’re prone to acne.
- Mineral oil: Also known as liquid paraffin, mineral oil is a clear, odourless liquid made from highly refined, purified, and processed petroleum. Mineral oils are often used in moisturisers, thanks to their ability to form a barrier on the skin to lock in moisture and relieve dryness.
- Lanolin: This ingredient can help prevent dry, rough, scaly, itchy skin and soothe minor skin irritations when applied topically. It works by forming an oily barrier on the top layer of skin that prevents water from escaping from your skin cells.
A humectant is an ingredient that draws water into the epidermis (skin cells in the top layer of skin) from the moisture in the air and from deeper layers of the skin.
Because humectants draw water into those tops cells, it’s important you combine them with occlusives to retain that water. If you don’t, you could end up damaging your top layer of skin further and cause it to become even drier.
Common humectant ingredients
- Glycerin: Also called glycerine or glycerol, glycerin is frequently used in moisturising creams and lotions. It’s a clear substance and one of the most effective humectants on the market, helping to repair the skin barrier and keeping your skin supple.
- Hyaluronic acid: Naturally found in the human body and capable of absorbing 1,000 times its weight in water, hyaluronic acid is a building block for healthy skin, eyes and joints. It’s used in many anti-aging products to help repair the skin barrier and lock in moisture, reducing the appearance of dry and aging skin.
- Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA): Substances like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and citric acid are all classed as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). They’re naturally derived from fruit and milk sugars and can help draw in water as well as aiding in the removal of dead skin cells.
- Oats: There’s a reason we use so many oats and oat-based ingredients in our products. They’ve long been celebrated for helping to maintain skin moisture, as well as the balance of the skin’s natural microbiome. Find out more about our AVEENO® oat ingredients .