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A Guide to Moisturizing

The winter months always come with an increase in dehydrated skin. Maintaining a healthy moisturized complexion is no small feat for many of us. It takes a daily commitment of lathering on creams, lotions, butters and oils to avoid chalky legs or flakey noses. Not all moisturizers are created equal and there are many things to consider when choosing a product for your skin. Here is a breakdown of the types of moisturizers available and how they may be beneficial to you.

Creams and Lotions (aka Emulsions)

There are five main components to a lotion or cream:

Water: Hydrates skin and makes product easier to spread.

Emollients: Oils/butters/waxes that lock water into skin keeping it plump and hydrated. They also protect, soften and sometimes nourish. Plant oils are ideal because they are full of performing ingredients such as fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants. Petroleum emollients such as mineral oil, paraffins and silicones (found in most conventional formulas) may be good for protecting skin and locking in moisture but are inert and offer no nourishment. They can be ecotoxic to our water systems as well.

Emulsifiers/Thickeners: Substances that bond oil and water together and thicken the product.

Preservatives: Ingredients added to protect the product from unwanted bacterial growth and rancidity.

Actives: Substances added to enhance the performance of the product or offer sun protection.

The pros of using a cream or lotion is that your skin receives both water and emollients at the same time so your skin gets plumped up and rehydrated while it is being protected from water loss. It allows for a very thin layer of oil and wax that absorbs quickly. The downside is that it involves more chemicals to create an emulsion so you have to be wary of the ingredients used.

Facial/Body Oils and Serums

Oils and serums are usually a combination of emollients (oils) and active (performing) ingredients. The advantage of this type of product is that it is concentrated so it contains a heavy dose of antioxidants, vitamins, fatty acids and other substances such as hyaluronic acid and peptides. The disadvantage is that it may be too heavy for some skin types and it does not contain water to increase hydration levels. A great use for an oil/serum is to add it to a cream or lotion to increase the thickness and performance of the product.

Balms/Salves

These are blends of oil and waxes that usually contain therapeutic herbs and essential oils. They are very heavy moisturizers so they are a great option for extremely dry or irritated skin, lip care and cuticles. They would be too heavy for most faces and do not contain water.

Butters

These are products that are very similar to balms (oil and wax) but they contain a high amount of plant butters such as cocoa, shea or mango. They often get whipped into a lighter feel than balms. They are a great option for dry skin but tend to feel greasy to some.

Tips for Buying a Moisturizer

  • Ingredients on a skin care label are listed in order of percentage from highest to lowest. Look for plant and nut oils as the first or second (next to water) ingredients to determine the quality of a product. Many companies will use cheap fillers to create the bulk of a formula so watch for ingredients lists that begin with a chemical rather than a botanical.
  • For a list of ingredients to avoid, take a look at the David Suzuki Foundation’s Toxic Ten Ingredient List.
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