What to Look for in a Moisturiser

As your body’s largest organ, skin can be a complicated thing. That’s why it’s important to understand it and its needs – a little like painting the walls of your house. Use the wrong formula for, say, the bathroom or the outside, and the walls could end up cracking and peeling away…not a nice image when you apply that thought to your skin!

So let’s discuss the basics of moisturisers and moisturising your skin!

There are 3 different classes of moisturisers:

Occlusives work by forming a hydrophobic (water-repelling) layer on the surface of the skin, trapping in moisture, so they’re best used on skin that already has some moisture in it (i.e skin that’s not dry and flaking).

Humectants draw water from the environment and put it into your skin, hydrating the skin’s upper layers. This can actually be counter-productive if the skin is already well-hydrated by drawing moisture away from the skin, so it should be followed by an occlusive to trap that moisture in.

Emollients smooth out the skin by filling in the gaps between skin cells. They soften the skin, making it more supple and less likely to become sore and cracked.

First things first, you need to identify your skin type. This will help you make an informed decision when it comes to choosing a suitable moisturiser that best meet your skin’s needs.

So what are the different skin types?

There are 5 skin types which are widely acknowledged in the skincare industry. These are: Normal, Dry, Oily, Combination and Sensitive. Each is unique and has its own characteristics, so it’s a good idea to tailor your skincare regime to your skin type.

Normal

Characterised by having no major issues. It produces just the right amount of oil needed to keep it balanced, supple and hydrated. Not too oily or dry, even tone, and no large pores. This might sound like it doesn’t need attention, but all skin needs something to keep it harmonised, so you still need to moisturise even if you have normal skin.

Best type of moisturiser: Emollient.

Dry

If your skin is dry, you’ve probably noticed how often it gets flaky, especially in the colder months. Your skin will probably feel tight and uncomfortable after cleansing. If you’ve never had the urge to buy powder foundations or if you find that makeup clings to patches on your face, chances are your skin is dry. This is because it’s not producing enough oil to keep it healthy and balanced. There are a variety of different moisturisers which are particularly helpful for drier skin types…but we’ll get to those later! It’s also worth noting that exfoliation will help tremendously with getting rid of those flakies – just be gentle by using a chemical exfoliant or a muslin cloth rather than a harsh scrubby type cleanser.

Best type of moisturiser: An occlusive, or better yet, a humectant followed by an occlusive.

Oily

This is the opposite of dry – meaning that your skin produces too much oil. While oil (or sebum) is necessary to help keep skin healthy, overproduction can cause skin to look shiny or greasy. You can identify oily skin if you touch your face and your finger feels like it’s coated, or if your skin feels comfortable (or even oily) shortly after cleansing. Problems like acne, enlarged pores, and blackheads are more common in this skin type.

Just because your skin is oily does’t mean you can skip the moisturiser! You can still get dry patches if you’re oily, so it’s important to keep the skin healthy. It’s just a case of finding a moisturiser that works well for you.

Best type of moisturiser: Probably a humectant, or an emollient. Try and choose something that is oil-free or has “mattifying” in the description.

Combination

This is like the lovechild of oily and dry. Unfortunately, you get the worst of both worlds – oily t-zone and dry cheeks? Yup, you probably have combination skin. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of moisturisers designed to meet your needs!

Best type of moisturiser: An emollient would work well for both dry and oily skins, so this would be a good choice.

Sensitive

If your skin is sensitive, chances are you’ll already know about it. Does your skin burn when apply certain products, or look red and sore after cleansing? Then it’s most likely sensitive. This could be due to a number of factors, mostly due to sensitivity or (or even allergies) to certain ingredients. Most common triggers for sensitive skins are alcohols, fragrances, and natural ingredients, like lanolin and essential oils.

Best type of moisturiser: Depends on the underlying skin concern (you can have oily/sensitive, or dry/sensitive). But you’ll want to look for something that’s fragrance and colour free, with any alcohols listed as far down the ingredient list as possible (this means it’s in a lower concentration, so will be less harsh on your skin). Try to avoid overly “natural” products as these often contain essential oils and plant extracts which can irritate sensitive skin – Remember, “natural” ingredients are not inherently better. Looks for a simple formula (that means a short ingredient list) with things like glycerin, hyaluronic acid and oat milk listed in the ingredients.

Other things to consider

  • It’s great to use a nice, basic moisturiser, but there are some ingredients which can be beneficial to the skin. These include antioxidants such as green tea extract, or anti-aging ingredients like retinoids and various “peptides”.
  • It’s also important to use an SPF, which is great for preventing skin from premature ageing.
  • Another thing to remember is to exfoliate regularly and gently – take a look at my post on chemical exfoliants for more information on this.
  • Always patch-test new products (a small amount applied to your most sensitive or spot-prone area) for a few days before applying all over your face.

Product Recommendations

Occlusives: Straight up Vaseline, Aquaphor, or any moisturiser with mineral oil or petroleum listed at the top

Humectants: CeraVe, Eucerin Dry Skin Relief

Emollients: Avene Emollient Cream, E45, Clinique Dramatically Different Gel

References: Skincare Addiction, and again

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