What Are Natural Moisturizing Factors? And What Are The Good Hydrators For A Beautiful Skin?


When skin is dehydrated, it is suffering from lack of water in the surface. Skin becomes dehydrated from too much sun, weather exposure, harsh cleansers and aging.

Humectants are water-binding agents that are water loving. They have a strong attraction to water. Many chemically bind water to them, holding many water molecules.

Natural humectants, lipids or hydrating agents found within the intercellular cement are known as natural moisturizing factors or NMFs. The NMFs in the skin help to preserve water or hydration within the epidermis, keeping the barrier function intact and keeping the skin soft and supple. Impaired barrier function can mean a lack of NMFs from missing lipids or other components and can cause dehydration, flaking, esthetic problems and increased skin sensitivity. It can also cause wrinkly and loss of firmness appearance to the skin surface.

Some of the popular NMFs include sodium PCA, ceramides, fatty acids, glycerol and squalane. These intercellular components are produced during the cell renewal process as well migrate from the basal layer to the stratum corneum. As we age, our cell renewal slows down and therefore we produce fewer NMFs. This lessens the ability of the skin to hold hydration, making the skin dry, tight, flaky and dull-looking.

Recently, scientists have been able to isolate and prepare special ingredients that help to ‘repair’ or ‘patch’ the moisture barrier. These ingredients can now be used in products for dry, dehydrated, as well as aging and sun-damaged skin.


Lipid Replacement

Soy sterols or soy lecithin are natural sources of lipid materials.

Linoleic acid can be derived from numerous plant sources, including evening primrose oil, sunflower oil or borage oil.



However, lipids alone are not as effective without the use of humectants. Humectants, water-loving ingredients, work like ‘water magnets’ attracting water while the lipids hold the water within the intercellular spaces between the cells. This combination of lipid complexes with hydrators is excellent for helping restore essential moisture to dry, dehydrated, as well as sensitive skin.

Sodium PCA is an excellent hydrator. It has a strong ability to attract water and is readily accepted by the skin. Sodium PCA is used frequently in night creams, day creams, sunscreen and other hydrating products. It can be used without lipids to hydrate oilier or combination skin. It is lightweight on the skin and does not cause clogged pores.

Glycerin is a humectant that is a very strong water binder. But it can actually make the skin more dry over a period of time because it doesn’t just pull water from cosmetics and the atmosphere when applied to the skin. In large amounts, it can pull water from the lower levels of the epidermis, causing transepidermal water loss, which results in drier skin. Used in a moderate amount in a good hydrating cream, it is an excellent hydrating agent.

Propylene glycol is another widely used humectant. It penetrates the skin fairly easily, making it a good hydrating agent. Some people, however, are allergic to propylene glycol. It has been used in thousands of cosmetics especially in foundations.

Butylene glycol is now being used more frequently in products for dehydrated as well as sensitive skin. It has less potential for sensitive skin irritation than propylene glycol.

Sorbitol is another excellent hydrating agent that is frequently used in hydrating lotions.

Alphahydroxy acids, besides being surface exfoliants, are also hydrators.

Lactic acid is actually used in prescription-strength moisturizers.

Glycolic acid is also a hydrating agent.


Other Humectants – Substantives

These water binders, known as substantives, work very differently than the standard humectant agents. They attach themselves well to the surface of the skin, sort of spreading out across the skin, to protect and hydrate the surface.

Hyaluronic acid, also known as sodium hyaluronate, is one these agents that can hold up to 400 times its own weight in water. The molecule is quite large. It cannot penetrate the skin to any degree. However, because of its excellent water-binding properties, it is a frequently used hydrating performance ingredient. Hyaluronic acid is an expensive hydrator. Creams and lotions containing hyaluronic acid may be more expensive than others.

Collagen is large, long-chain molecular proteins that lie on top of the skin and bind water, also helping to prevent water loss. It is too big to ever penetrate the skin, but they do a good job hydrating. Because it lie on top of the skin, it also help to ‘fill in’ small lines and wrinkles, making skin look smoother.

Other recent discoveries in humectants include algae and seaweed extracts that are said to perform as good hydrators by forming a surface gel.

<Skin Care Beyond the Basics – Mark Lees>


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