Moisturizing Basics for Winter Skin Care
When choosing a commercial moisturizer, your first consideration should be your skin type. For oily skin, use a light moisturizer; for normal to oily skin, use a moisturizing lotion; and for dry skin, use a moisturizing cream.
Next, analyze a product’s ingredient list: Nearly every moisturizer contains some combination of emollients, humectants, emulsifiers, “active ingredients” and penetration enhancers.
Emollients, such as phospholipids and lecithin, soften, heal and hydrate. Plant oils such as olive, castor, jojoba and coconut make great emollients because they mimic the soothing oils our own skin produces.
Humectants attract moisture to the skin. Look for moisturizers made with glycerin and sorbitol derived from natural sources. (To find out if the ingredients are from natural sources, consult the ingredients list or peruse the company’s website.)
Emulsifiers are used to keep the ingredients in a moisturizer from separating. Lanolin is an excellent natural emulsifier—read more about it under “What Is Lanolin?”.
A product’s “active ingredients” are usually responsible for providing its advertised effects, such as soothing, treating blemishes or preventing signs of aging. For example, zinc oxide is a natural active ingredient that protects against sun damage. Be careful when choosing skin products purported to remove wrinkles, blemishes or dark spots: These often contain harsh chemicals. To find out more about natural active ingredients, see “The Best Active Ingredients in Moisturizers” further in this article.
Penetration enhancers help a product’s active ingredients absorb into the skin. Look for moisturizers with natural penetration enhancers such as essential oils (menthol or chamomile are common), vegetable squalene, linoleic acid and oleic acid rather than synthetic penetration enhancers such as propylene glycol and tetrasodium EDTA.
Avoid poor-quality ingredients such as mineral oils, harsh chemicals, and artificial colors and fragrances. Harsh chemicals such as parabens, formaldehyde and propylene glycol are often used to give moisturizers a longer shelf life and help them absorb into the skin, but they can have side effects ranging from skin irritation to potential reproductive disorders. You can find effective, safe natural moisturizers (see our picks under “3 Natural Moisturizers”), or make your own simple, inexpensive moisturizer using this Homemade Moisturizer Recipe. For more information on ingredients in personal-care products to avoid and extensive listings of safer options, read Come Clean: Natural Alternatives to Chemical-Laden Personal-Care Products.