What Do the Ingredients in Moisturizers Mean?

Written by on July 16, 2012 in Beauty Tips - No comments


Ever wondered what the ingredients in moisturizers and other skin care products mean? Let our dermatologist explain!


We all know how confusing the ingredient list on food products an be, but the list of ingredients in moisturizers and other skin products can be even more difficult to understand!  In addition, most companies will use the ingredients as a selling point, for example “contains alpha hydroxy acids”.  But just what do these ingredients mean?  As a dermatologist, I often field questions from my patients about the meaning of the different ingredients, and what to look for in products.  Below, I’ll explain some of the most common chemicals and ingredients used in skin care products.
Hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate)  Serves to “pull in” and retain water. Water is what “moisturizers” our skin, so hyaluronic acid should increase water content in skin.

Glycerin A humectant (meaning it promotes moisture), and should water into skin.

Urea  A humectant also, and helps to slough off dead skin cells to smooth.

Propylene glycol A humectant and stabilizer.

Petrolatum A petroleum product (which you probably guessed from its name), this traps water with its occlusive properties

Alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic acid, lactic acid) These acids exfoliate (i.e. remove) dead skin cells, brighten skin (light bounces off our skin more effectively when there are not so many accumulated dead skin cells). Also helps skin hold onto water.

Salicylic acid A beta hydroxy acid , good for keeping pores clear in acne-prone skin.

Dimethicone A silicone which serves to smooth, fills in fine wrinkles and makes skin feel soft

Allantoin Promotes skin softening and healing.

Ceramides These arelipids found in skin.  They are used to repair the skin barrier function and keep water from leaving skin.

Panthenol ( from Vitamin B5) Moisturizes and has cell stimulating ability.

Niacinamide A B vitamin which strengthens and firms skin. helpful to reduce inflammation in rosacea and acne.

Jojoba oil  A natural wax- like oil from the jojoba tree that simulates natural sebum. May be helpful in acne prone skin, used sparingly.

Squalene A natural oil found in sebum, also found in shark liver. Has antioxidant properties, and good moisturizing abilities.

Coconut oil Virginal coconut oil has antibacterial and antiviral properties.

Retinol The gentler version of tretinoin ( the prescription vitamin A called Renova or Retin-A). Used in anti-aging creams to smooth , and stimulate collagen synthesis.

Caffeine Tightens skin.

Green tea Contains polyphenols (anti-oxidants) which help protect from sun damage.

Kinetin  A plant hormone, stimulates cell turnover.

Zeatin Another plant hormone, found in coconut milk which stimulates fibroblasts. With Kinetin, often found in anti-aging creams.

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