Choice is a wonderful thing. In general, this means that you can find a product that is perfectly suited to your needs. But when it comes to skincare, the sheer amount of choice in moisturizers, coupled with the sometimes confusing label jargon, is often enough to have you grabbing the first thing you see on the shelf hoping that she’ll do.
Applying moisturizer to the skin of the face and body (when needed) is the cornerstone of good skincare. And even if it seems obvious, it can be useful to know why.
What is a moisturizer used for?
Moisturizers help seal in moisture, although the term is often used interchangeably with moisturizer. Moisturizing the skin is an essential part of a healthy skincare routine because it helps keep the skin barrier healthy.
Why applying moisturizer to your skin is crucial
The application of one of these products makes it possible to reinforce the hydration of the skin or to increase its water content. This not only helps prevent dry skin, which can be uncomfortable and itchy (and can potentially aggravate skin conditions such as eczema), but proper hydration also supports a healthy skin barrier, which prevents water from penetrating and irritants from infiltrating. Properly hydrated skin is plump skin, which reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
The thing is, there are three main types of moisturizers: lotion, cream, ointment, each with their own unique properties and best uses for skin. Also, there are different types of ingredients incorporated into moisturizing formulas which, although the end goal is to hydrate the skin, do so in different ways. Several of these ingredients can be incorporated into the same product.
Here’s an update on moisturizers, including what to look for on the label and the different types of moisturizers to consider based on your skin concerns.
Moisturizer or Moisturizer: What’s the Difference?
The answer to this common question is not really simple. Moisturizers restore moisture to the skin, while moisturizers seal it in. That said, the difference usually comes down to a matter of marketing, and thinking of them as separate product types is likely not going to help you. This is one of the cases where the jargon goes beyond what most people need to find an effective product. So there is no harm in using these two terms interchangeably.
What’s important is that you use a moisturizer or moisturizer in the first place. Everyone should regularly use a moisturizer on their skin, whether oily or dry. These products can help the skin stay balanced; even oily skin can become dehydrated.
3 types of moisturizers and their effects
Here are the different types of moisturizers and how to choose the best one for your skin.
Lotions have a thinner, lighter consistency than creams or ointments, and are best used for “normal” skin. If you have combination skin, i.e. your T-zone and chin are oily and your cheeks are drier, you will use a lotion (or cream) on the dry areas and a moisturizing gel on the oilier areas. (Hybrid products, often labeled as gel-cream, can be used all over the face if you have combination skin).
You can apply a lotion on the body or on the face. If you’re using one on your face and you’re prone to acne, make sure it’s non-comedogenic, which means it won’t clog pores.
Creams are more moisturizing than lotions but less so than ointments. Thick and silky in texture, creams contain less oil than lotions and therefore do not have such a thick consistency. If you have eczema (often called atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema), the best choice is an ointment, but creams are also fine, although they can sometimes contain irritating ingredients. For dry skin on the body, choose a body cream or ointment, and to get good coverage, be generous with the amount of product you apply.
The pomade is the thickest product in the range. Applying an ointment to the dry skin of the body is ideal. For body skin, we tend to think a thicker product is better. Ointments are heavier than creams and lotions because they contain more oil, making them the most effective product for treating dry, flaky skin. Ointments, including those formulated with petrolatum and mineral oil, are recommended for eczema-prone skin.
3 common ingredients in moisturizers
An occlusive is a type of ingredient that seals in moisture to prevent water loss from the skin. It is a protective barrier that helps the skin feel more hydrated and protects it against external factors that can cause irritation. Ingredients that act as occlusives include petrolatum, silicones, and lanolin.
A humectant is another popular type of ingredient you’ll find in a moisturizer. Humectants have the ability to absorb water from their surroundings, including the dermis and, under appropriate environmental conditions, humidity from surrounding air. This extra hydration helps smooth and plump the skin. Ingredients considered humectants are glycerin, hyaluronic acid and urea.
An emollient is “an oily substance that helps fill in the spaces between the cells that make up the skin. By creating a film, they give the skin a feeling of softness”. Ceramides, oils, and lipids are all ingredients found in moisturizing formulas that are considered emollients. Emollients can have humectant or occlusive properties. These types of products can be used for generally dry, itchy, or irritated skin, as well as to help treat eczema and psoriasis.