Skin hydration: how to use a moisturizer correctly?

Presse Santé

If you use a skin or hair product for its moisturizing properties, it probably contains a humectant. Humectants are ingredients that draw water to the outer layer of skin, helping to relieve dryness and improve skin tone. You’ll find them in cleansers, creams, serums, and balms. If you’re looking to enhance your natural skincare ritual, learn a little more about moisturizers and which ones are best for your skin and hair needs.

What is a moisturizer?

A humectant is a moisturizing agent that locks in moisture in the skin and hair. Humectants draw water from the second layer of skin, called the dermis, and bring it to the top layer, called the epidermis. This keeps the outermost layer well hydrated, improving skin tone and smoothing out fine lines.

You will see a moisturizer as an agent in:

face masks
eye creams
lip balms
anti frizz serums
foot balms

Types and mode of action.

Humectants attract water and draw it into the skin or hair to maintain healthy hydration. Some skin moisturizers work as exfoliants that first remove dead cells and debris from your skin, giving you a smoother complexion and allowing for cell turnover. There are several types of moisturizers, and studies show that they all work a little differently. Therefore, it is important to know the differences before using any product on your body. The most commonly used moisturizers are:

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs): Alpha hydroxy acids are a group of acids derived from plants and animals. They are used in skin care products for their anti-aging properties, which help smooth skin, exfoliate dead skin cells and debris, and improve cell turnover and texture. You’ll find AHAs in facial cleansers, toners, creams, lotions, peels, and serums.

Salicylic Acid: Salicylic acid is part of a group of compounds called salicylates. Its structure allows it to be oil soluble, which means it can penetrate through the oily lipid layers of the skin to help unclog pores and remove dead cells. In addition to its uses in skin creams, ointments, and serums, salicylic acid is also used in shampoos to exfoliate the scalp and improve dandruff.

Urea: Urea is a natural waste product produced by the skin when the body breaks down proteins. It is part of the skin’s natural moisturizing factor, as it maintains moisture balance in the outermost layers. Synthetic urea is used as a moisturizer in topical creams and cosmetics. The best known urea cream is Urea 40, which is used for extremely dry and chapped skin.

Hyaluronic Acid: Hyaluronic acid is a lubricating substance produced naturally by the body. It is found in the highest concentration in the skin and helps retain collagen, increase moisture, and provide elasticity and suppleness. It is used as a moisturizer in body care products and is available in supplement and eye drop forms.
Glycerin: Glycerin is a natural compound that comes from animal fats or vegetable oils, such as palm, coconut, or soybean oil. It is mainly used in skin products such as soaps, creams and serums. You’ll also find glycerin in commercial condiments and baked goods.

Caprylyl glycol: Caprylyl glycol is an alcohol derived from caprylic acid, which comes from coconut oil, palm oil, and cow’s milk. Although the glycol exists naturally, it is often produced synthetically for use in hair and body care formulas. It is often used as a skin moisturizer in moisturizers, face masks, and other cosmetics.

Aloe vera: Aloe vera gel is the gelatinous substance found in the internal part of the plant. It has soothing, nourishing and moisturizing effects on skin and hair. Aloe vera is often used as an ingredient in products intended to improve dry scalp, burns, rashes, wounds, dryness, and skin irritations.

Honey: Honey is a natural moisturizer that has nourishing, soothing, and antioxidant properties. Helps fight wrinkles, dandruff, psoriasis, diaper rash and infections. You will find honey in cleansing milks and masks, creams, lotions, shampoos, healing ointments and after-sun balms.

Benefits of moisturizers for skin beauty

1. Boosts hydration

Humectants attract water and help prevent moisture loss, thus serving as excellent humectants. Hair and skin moisturizers are best known for their moisturizing effects and their ability to make skin feel softer and smoother. A study published in Skin Research and Technology found that a moisturizer-rich formula with 15% AHAs and 15% urea effectively relieved xerosis (abnormal dryness) of the feet without weakening the skin’s barrier function.

2. Serves as a barrier for the skin

Moisturizers help fill cracks and dry, rough skin with water, which acts as a barrier and will not allow harmful substances to penetrate the skin. A 2017 study of 20 healthy women concluded that a formula containing 1% hyaluronic acid and 5% glycerin significantly improved skin hydration and skin barrier function for up to 24 hours after use.

3. Remove dead skin cells

Many moisturizing ingredients act as exfoliants, reducing dead skin cells, debris, and pollutants. These moisturizers help unclog pores and remove buildup that can make your skin look dull. They can also be used on very rough, cracked and dry areas, including the heels of the feet. Research has shown that certain moisturizers, such as AHAs, help increase cell turnover and improve skin firmness and elasticity.

4. Promotes wound healing

Some moisturizers contribute to wound healing through their soothing properties. Honey, for example, has been shown to condition the skin, reduce inflammation and fight oxidative stress, which is why it is often used in wound and burn dressings.

5. Reduce fine lines

Due to their “plumping” effect, moisturizers reduce facial lines and wrinkles. Regular use of a gentle product that contains a moisturizer hydrates the skin and helps reduce the signs of aging.

Risks and Side Effects of Moisturizers

It is not uncommon for synthetic moisturizers to be used in skin and hair products because they are cheaper to produce and can extend the shelf life of formulas. Synthetic moisturizers help hydrate the skin, but they don’t provide nutrients and can absorb so much water from the second layer of skin that it causes dryness. Ideally, choose a product made with natural ingredients by a reputable company.

The beauty of moisturizers is that they draw water from the environment, but if you’re in a very dry area, they’ll use the moisture from your skin and bring it to the surface. Using a product that contains an occlusive (such as shea butter) can help retain moisture in the skin to prevent dryness. Moisturizers are generally well tolerated, but if you experience any adverse effects from a product that contains a moisturizer, discontinue use immediately.

Dosage and instructions for use of a moisturizer.

Humectants are often not the active ingredient in a product. A humectant is used to give a better consistency and help moisturize skin and hair, but it probably won’t be at the top of the ingredient list. Some humectants, such as caprylyl glycol, are used “behind the scenes” in formulas to act as stabilizers and preservatives. In general, products that contain moisturizers are used once or twice a day. These ingredients should not be overused, especially in dry weather, as they can cause dryness if the air is low in humidity. Applying a product that contains a moisturizer while your skin is clean and still slightly damp can enhance its effects.

What to look for in a product

When looking for a moisturizing product, the first thing to consider is your specific skin or hair goal. Do you want to promote hydration, remove dead skin cells, fight fine lines or eliminate dandruff?

There are many types of moisturizers, so you’ll need to choose the ingredient that best suits your needs:

The best for dry skin: aloe vera, urea, honey, glycerin.

Best for Clogged Pores: Salicylic Acid, Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Best for Fine Lines & Wrinkles: Caprylyl Glycol, Hyaluronic Acid

Ideal for dandruff and dry hair: salicylic acid, honey, caprylyl glycol, aloe vera.

As always, choose a product made by a reputable company that contains gentle, natural ingredients. Avoid products that contain preservatives or fragrances, as these can cause adverse reactions or worsen skin problems. Sometimes humectants are combined with occlusives in skin care formulas. While humectants attract water and draw it out of the second layer of skin, occlusives form an oily or lipid barrier on the skin’s outer surface to prevent moisture loss. The most commonly used occlusives are shea butter, mineral oil, and lanolin.


A humectant is a moisturizing agent that retains moisture in the skin and hair, using water present on the skin or in the environment. There are several types of moisturizers for hair and skin. Therefore, it is important to choose a product that contains the ingredients that meet your needs. Some of the most commonly used moisturizers include aloe vera, honey, alpha hydroxy acids, glycerin, and urea. Formulas that contain moisturizers are usually applied once or twice daily or as directed on the product label. It is best to apply moisturizers when your skin is still slightly damp and there is

* Presse Santé strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information provided can not replace the advice of a health professional.

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