What is a moisturizer?
An effective moisturizer is something that provides hydration/moisture, forms a (breathable) barrier that prevents moisture loss, and is also emollient. The last part of moisturizer is bolded, since a moisturizer has a different meaning than moisture. In cosmetics, adding moisture simply means to add water (or hydration).
Why are water/water-rich ingredients and oils/butters important for the skin?
Water/water rich ingredients and oils/butters mimic the skin's natural processes: sweat/water/moisture and sebum. Like sebum, oils and butters form a breathable barrier on the skin to prevent moisture loss and are emollients. Many people mistakenly call oils ‘moisturizers’, but they aren’t true moisturizers since they do not hydrate by themselves. Water and water rich ingredients are the only ingredients that add hydration or moisture, but they aren't true moisturizers by themselves either since they do not prevent evaporation.
Do I have to use a cream or lotion to moisturize my skin? What about serums?
As long as you get your waters and oils, it does not matter how you get them in your routine . Products like natural creams and lotions are convenient since they combine both steps (they contain both oils/butters and waters), and so are effective moisturizers. Other people prefer to moisturize their skin using two steps: a water based step and an oil/butter based step. Examples of this are using a water based serum with an oil, butter, balm, or oil based serum. Other examples, using a hydrosol or mist or toner with an oil, butter, balm, or oil based serum. Note: some serums contain both waters and oils/butters, so they are light moisturizers.
If my skin produces enough sebum, do I have to add a product with oil/butter to my routine (like a cream, lotion, oil, oil based serum, butter, or balm)? Can I just use a water based serum/hydrator/a product that contains moisture?
I personally think that nearly everyone needs to use both waters and oils/butters in natural skin care because very few people truly have normal or balanced skin (i.e. 'perfect' skin with very few problems): most people have imbalances in the water and oil levels in their skin, and also have other skin conditions they want to address. For example, my skin is usually normal or balanced but I can get dehydrated easily, and if I don't take care of my skin it gets unbalanced very quickly. Water rich ingredients alone would not help my dehydration prone skin since they do not help hold the moisture in, so to prevent my skin from becoming dehydrated, I use products made with oils/butters in addition to water rich products.
But I'd imagine there are always exceptions to the rule, and a few people could potentially only use hydrators. But I personally would still recommend using oils or butters in addition to the hydrators, since aside from the basic function of oils or butters (preventing moisture loss by forming a barrier) they provide so many other benefits for the skin: they are emollients so they soften the skin and may help diminish the appearance of fine lines, if you use oils that are unrefined they are some of the richest sources of vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, and plant phytochemicals. Also depending on the plant, unrefined oils/butters can help numerous skin conditions, for example, though it sounds ironic, many can help keep sebum levels in balance. If you have a very simple routine like me (cleanse, tone with hydrosol, oil or cream most days, and exfoliation or a mask once a week) then only cleansing and using a hydrosol is not going to provide the skin with enough of what it needs.
About The Author:
Li Wong has a B.A. in Environmental Studies (Biology) and a M.S. in Environmental Science and Policy. She has been crafting natural cosmetics and studying aromatherapy and herbalism since 2001, and is currently a student of Jeanne Rose’s Aromatherapy Studies Course. Environmental interests include conservation, botany, ethnobotany (uses of plants by indigenous peoples), mammals, organic standards in cosmetics, urban wildlife issues, environmental education and awareness, and public perception. Her all natural, eco-friendly, vegetarian cosmetic company will open in a few weeks. ☺
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