Hydrating and Moisturizing Ingredients List and Dictionary

Hydrating and Moisturizing Ingredients List

There are several categories of hydrating and moisturizing ingredients found in moisturizers. There is not one best moisturizing ingredient in face and body creams. The best moisturizers have a combination of several types of moisturizing ingredients. 

Different types of moisturizers contain various combinations of ingredients from these categories. The best moisturizing ingredients for you depends upon your Baumann Skin Type, so take the skin type quiz before buying any moisturizers so you know what ingredients to look for on the products moisturizing ingredients list.

the moisturizing ingredient dictionary

List of Moisturizing Ingredient Categories

emollient ingredients

Emollient Moisturizing Ingredients

Emollient moisturizing ingredients coat the skin's surface. This has several benefits:

  • Smooth skin
  • Make skin radiant
  • Allow skin to reflect light
  • Coat and hide fine lines and wrinkles

Think of emollients as a Snap Chat filter for your skin- making it look better temporarily.

Emollients can have a dual function and also be humectants and occlusives.

What are humectants

Humectant Moisturizing Ingredients

Humectant moisturizers pull water into themselves. If you are in a humid climate this will have several effects:

  • The area will swell
  • Fine lines will improve
  • Skin will get a dewy appearance
  • Shiny glass- like skin may result

In a dry climate, humectants can pull water from skin and dehydrate it.  Combining the moisturizer with occlusive moisturizing ingredients will solve this issue.

occlusive moisturizing ingredients

Occlusive Moisturizing Ingredients

Occlusive moisturizing ingredients form a protective layer on the skin's surface.

These are usually made of:

Silicone pads, plastic wrap and wound dressings can also provide occlusion and skin protection.

Essential oils are not considered occlusives.

Natural Moisturizing Factor

Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF) is a crucial element that regulates the hydration of our skin by providing moisturizing ingredients inside skin cells.

NMF is made up of a mixture of low molecular weight and water-soluble substances derived from a protein called filaggrin, which is found inside our keratinocyte skin cells.

Filaggrin plays an interesting role in maintaining the skin's barrier function and hydration. In the lower layers of the skin, it serves a structural purpose, but as it moves higher up, it breaks down into amino acids and is known as NMF.

Natural Moisturizing factor is made up of these amino acids:

  • histidine
  • glutamine
  • arginine

    All of these amino acids have hygroscopic properties, meaning they attract and bind water effectively. (They are humectants)

Through specific chemical transformations, these amino acids give rise to compounds such as trans-urocanic acid, pyrrolidone carboxylic acid, and citrulline, which collectively form the NMF.

Can Natural Moisturizing Factor be in Skin Care Products?

Despite efforts by researchers, it has been challenging to replicate the exact composition of the NMF found naturally in our skin. The NMF's unique ability to adapt to different environments and its individual variation among people make it difficult to replicate in a skincare product. Nevertheless, the amino acids from which it is derived continue to be used in moisturizers to provide effective hydration for the skin.

While the NMF itself is not found in most moisturizing skin care products, the amino acids derived from filaggrin, such as histidine, glutamine, and arginine, are commonly used ingredients. These amino acids act as humectants, helping the skin retain moisture and remain hydrated.

How to Find NMF on Product Labels

NMF itself is not found in products but the components it is made of can be.  Look for these moisturizing ingredients on product labels:

  • pyrrolidone carboxylic acid (PCA)
  •  urea
  • lactate
  • histidine
  •  glutamine
  • arginine

The best moisturizing ingredients

What is the best moisturizing ingredient?

Glycerin is the best moisturizing ingredient to moisturize the skin fast.

Hyaluronic acid is the second best to give fast but temporary results.

These are both humectant ingredients.

They do not repair the skin barrier and they do not give long term results. Results may only last one day.

What is the most hydrating ingredient for skin?

Water is the most hydrating ingredient for skin.

However, water tends to evaporate off of the skin so it needs to be combined with humectants to hold it on the skin's surface and occlusives to keep it from evaporating away.

Oils are also wonderful hydrating ingredients for the skin. Some oils hydrate better than others.

Using too many occlusive ingredients such as oils and petrolatum can clog pores. Beware of moisturizing ingredients that are comedogenic if you have acne-prone skin.

oils as moisturizing ingredients

Natural Moisturizing Ingredients

Many moisturizers like propylene glycol are chemicals made in the lab.  But there are many good natural hydrating ingredient options. The fastest way to hydrate skin naturally is with glycerin, but oils are a natural way to deliver hydrating fatty acids to the skin.

Which natural moisturizing ingredients are best depends upon your skin type. Some skin types need saturated fatty acids, while others need unsaturated fatty acids. Some skin types will prefer light humectant moisturizers, while very dry skin types will prefer greasy oils.

When looking for the best natural oils in moisturizers, remember that essential oils are not good moisturizing ingredients.

What is an example of a moisturizing ingredient?

Ingredients that you can look for on a skin care product label that are moisturizing include:

argan oil
cocoa butter
evening primrose oil
glyceryl stearate
grape seed oil
hyaluronic acid 
macadamia oil
shea butter
sunflower oil

There are many more moisturizing ingredients.

Learn how to find the best moisturizer for your skin here.

We can help! Take the quiz and we will give you examples of skin care brands with the best moisturizing ingredients.

Dr Leslie Baumann Dermatologist

Dr Leslie Baumann MD

Dermatologist, Author, and Researcher

Author of:

The Skin Type Solution (Bantam Dell 2006)

Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology (McGraw Hill 2002, 2009, 2022)

Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic ingredients (McGraw Hill 2015)

Level up your knowledge on moisturizing ingredients

The Best References and Scientific Publications on Moisturizing Ingredients in Skin Care:

  1. Baumann L. Ch. 43 in Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology 3rd Ed (McGraw Hill 2022)
  2. Baumann L. Chapters 7-18 Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients (McGraw Hill 2015).
  3. Kligman A. Regression method for assessing the efficacy of moisturizers. Cosm Toiletr. 1978;93:27
  4. Harris I, Hoppe U. Lanolins. In: Loden M, Maibach H, eds. Dry Skin and Moisturizers. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2000:259.
  5. Berbis P, Hesse S, Privat Y. Essential fatty acids and the skin. Allerg Immunol. 1990;22:225.
  6. Mitsui T. Humectants. In: Mitsui T, ed. New Cosmetic Science. New York, NY: Elsevier; 1997:134.
  7. Harding C, Bartolone J, Rawlings A. Effects of natural moisturizing factor and lactic acid isomers on skin function. In: Loden M, Maibach H, eds. Dry Skin and Moisturizers. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2000:236.
  8. Draelos ZD. Therapeutic moisturizers. Dermatol Clin. 2000;18:597.
  9. Fowler, J. (2012). Understanding the role of natural moisturizing factor in skin hydration. Pract Dermatol, 9, 36-40.

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