Moisturizers don’t actually add moisture. Instead, they attract and trap existing water in the skin. A good moisturizer contains humectants, ceramides and/or emollients that lock water in the outer layer of the skin, giving any damaged cells a chance to repair. “Moisturizing products are important,” says celebrity aesthetician Nerida Joy. “You need them because you never want to dry out the outermost layer of skin.”
Your skin type and the degree of dryness will determine what type of hydrator you will best benefit from.
The Moisture Absorbers: Humectants
These draw water to the skin cells to keep skin hydrated.
Key ingredients: Glycerin, lactic acid, urea, hyaluronic acid and alphahydroxy acid (AHAs)
Works best for: Dry, thick skin in climates that are very humid. “Humectants act as a good first layer of moisture and are suitable for all skin types including oily, combination and acne prone skin because they’re void of the heavier oils,” says New York dermatologist Anne Chapas, MD.
The Space Fillers: Emollients
Emollients fill in any spaces or gaps between skin cells that are missing moisturizing lipids. Usually oil-based, although they can be water-based, too, as an emollient fills the space, the skin becomes smoother and better hydrated.
Key ingredients: Lanolin, mineral oil and petrolatum
Works best for: Extremely dry, dehydrated mature skin that needs serious moisture
The Skin ‘Glue’: Ceramides
Naturally found in the skin, damaged or depleted ceramide levels show up as dry, damaged skin. By replenishing the skin with lost ceramides, it is better able to retain moisture.
Key ingredients: Ceramides
Works best for: Normal and combination skin types, minimal dryness and those with eczema
The Moisture Sealers: Occlusives
Designed to douse the skin in moisture, occlusive agents are heavy in nature and are usually recommended more for the body and not as much for the face.
Key ingredients: Rose hip, avocado and hazelnut oils
Works best for: More mature, dehydrated skin that’s void of an environment with any humidity. If your skin is reactive or blemish prone it’s best to stay away from occlusive moisturizers.