Your skin is unique. Just like you are. So there is no one size fits all when it comes to moisturising or designing a natural skincare routine that’s going to keep our outermost layer looking and feeling it’s best.
Our skin is actually the largest organ in our body and accounts for 12-15% of our body weight. It is part of the organ system responsible for protecting our bodies from various kinds of damage like loss of water or abrasion. But it’s not just a protective layer. It regulates our temperature and carries out its own daily renewal process. Our skin heals itself when wounded, generates Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight and is a sensory receptor warning us of pain or pressure. It is pretty amazing….
Our skin is made up of layers. And layers within layers. The outermost layer of the skin is called the epidermis which has 4-5 layers of its own. The surface layer of the epidermis is a network of cells which need to be full of water to keep the skin smooth and plump. These cells are held together by a matrix of fats and proteins, and the whole lot is then protected by a thin oily film which stops viruses and bacteria getting in, and water getting out.
Your Natural Skin Oils and the Protective Film
Skins with little or no oil can become dehydrated and dry as water from the plump, water-filled cells below is allowed to evaporate freely. Oil and collagen production slow down as we age and when our environment cools down, so it’s good idea to support our skin during these times with a carefully chosen natural skincare routine. At the other end of the scale is teenage skin which can be oily and prone to breakouts because of the over production of our skins natural oils.
Our protective film (or acid mantle) is constantly bombarded by the sun, other airborne pollutants and harsh chemical skincare. Luckily, it has the ability to regenerate and fix itself after being damaged but like everything, it has it’s limits. Continued use of harsh foaming cleansers or soaps that leave your face feeling so tight, you worry it might break if you smile can actually inhibit this clever regeneration process. So go easy on the cleansing and support your skin’s regeneration process with a natural moisturiser.
There are THOUSANDS of products out there all claiming to perform miracles when it comes to skin. From making us look many years younger, to giving us glowing, radiant skin….you name it. There is a pot of cream out there that will claim to deliver it. So how do we pick a good one and what should we look for when choosing a natural moisturiser…??
How Moisturisers Work
First, let’s take a look at the 3 main ways that moisturisers work and some natural moisturiser options available for each of them.
Occlusives cover the skin with a film to prevent evaporation of moisture from the skin beneath it. In effect, they act as a barrier; Vaseline is the classic occlusive!!
Many occlusive moisturisers will contain mineral oil or petroleum by-products which are not poisonous by themselves but are not a very sustainable choice. In addition to this, the Environmental Working Group notes that there is a high risk of these ingredients being contaminated with toxic carcinogens (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons or PAHs) so we suggest that you avoid them. But don’t worry – there are some great natural moisturiser alternatives to choose from including beeswax, coconut oil and shea butter.
Occlusive moisturisers are very effective at minimising moisture loss and are particularly good for very dry skin conditions and areas of thick skin including heels, elbows and knees. However, for oily or acne prone skin, caution is advised. Occlusives can prevent the skin from releasing its natural oils and can lead to blocked pores.
Emollients make the skin feel soft, smooth and more flexible. When the skin gets too dry, the matrix of proteins holding all those outer skin cells together can fracture and break. Emollients work by penetrating the skin and restoring that matrix, smoothing the surface and helping the skin retain its natural moisture.
Emollients can be effective for all types of dry skin conditions and are usually made of fats or oils. They are commonly made into an emulsion with water – like a cream or a lotion. This means the water can be absorbed into the skin, and the oil helps to keep it there. Many emollients also have occlusive properties although most are quite mild when compared to the daddy occlusive, Vaseline. Great examples of natural emollients which are often found in a natural moisturiser include castor oil, jojoba, rosehip oil, argan oil and cacay oil. Castor oil is a popular choice as it is able to penetrate deep into the skin (about 10 layers deep…) and also has occlusive properties – unrefined and organic is best!!
Humectants work in the opposite way to occlusives and emollients. Instead of repelling water, they attract water. After penetrating the skin, they attract water molecules from the atmosphere, form bonds with them and lock that moisture into the skin.
In very dry conditions where there is not much water in the air, humectants can instead draw moisture from the lower layers of the skin which could cause skin to become even dryer. An effective way to prevent this is to use a combination of a humectant and an occlusive.
Glycerine is a popular humectant choice and is included in many natural moisturiser products. It is commonly derived from palm oil, so it’s best to check that it has been sourced responsibly, but choose organic if possible. A great alternative is coconut glycerine. Other natural humectants you might come across in natural moisturisers include honey, aloe vera, comfrey and marshmallow root.
Many of the moisturising products you’ll see are actually a carefully balanced mixture of two or more of these moisturiser types. That’s because they can complement each other and actually work better together in some cases, given the right proportions and good ingredients to start with.
Understanding Labels & Ingredients
Let’s check out some examples from the Green Elephant Creams and Moisturisers pages to see how all this theory translates into real life. Just so you know…I’ve not tried these products yet or seen them in the flesh, so my conclusions are based purely on what we can learn from the labelling and the ingredients list, translated into something that might help us understand how these products moisturise our skin given what we know about the 3 moisturiser types.
And of course…we’ve got some pretty special products listed here so they don’t just moisturise. They have all sorts of other bonuses due to their special blend of botanicals and natural goodies, but we’ll save that discussion for another day and focus here on how they keep your skin moisturised!!
Bee Lush Moisturiser by The Sage Apothecary
This is badged as a daily moisturiser for dry and mature skin types. I would expect the texture to be a bit richer than other daily natural moisturisers because as we mentioned before, older skin needs a bit more help in the moisture department. I think my skin would like this one….;)
It’s great to see the top 2 ingredients are water. Hydrosols are basically water with the power of herbs, created by steam distilling different botanicals. The hydrosol can contain the therapeutic properties of the herb that has been distilled, whilst still being gentle on the skin. And whilst water is not a moisturiser; we can’t just rub water on our faces and be done with it, we know that it’s water keeping our skin cells plump and hydrated. That’s why you will see many moisturisers contain high quantities of water which will normally be emulsified into a cream with an emollient ingredient so the water can be delivered to the cells that need it.
We can see that there are plenty of natural oils in this product (the emollients) and an emulsifying agent which will help them mix nicely with the water making it easy for everything to be absorbed into the skin. The oils will be maintaining that fat/protein matrix and providing a light protective film and the water will be plumping those skin cells. This product also contains marshmallow root and aloe vera which are both natural humectants, and castor oil (the occlusive) which will ensure all the moisture delivered by the cream will stay locked in the skin.
Next up, let’s look at the Miss Wairarapa Light Day Moisturiser by Martygirl Skinfood.
So it’s a light natural moisturiser and it says it’s great for youthful, problem or sensitive skin. This would make me think this would be good as an all rounder – gentle and not too rich. For me and my undecided skin, this would be a useful tool for summer when my skin prefers something lighter (it is SPF 15 too) and also those times of the month when my skin gets oily and is prone to spots. Yes..spots are not just for teenagers!!!
So, we’ve got another hydrosol as the top ingredient which is awesome. Remember…it’s water…but with plant powers!! We’ve then got a number of oils (our emollients for smoothing the skin and maintaining our protein/fat matrix) and an emulsifier to make sure the emollients can bind properly with the hydrosol. We also have glycerine which is a humectant and will keep the precious hydrosol in our skin.
Now let’s look at this Intense Moisturiser by Oh Goodness. It’s perfect for dry and maturing skin which would lead me to believe it’s a richer cream rather than a lotion.
For me, this sounds like a great night time cream, but for really dry or aging skin it could of course be used anytime. Very rich creams like this are also great for hands (the product info states this too), especially the thin skin on the backs of our hands that can giveaway our age….
Immediately we can see that it doesn’t contain any water, there are two occlusives in the top three ingredients and then we have some great natural emollients. This means we were right – this baby is rich!! But it will do a great job of maintaining moisture levels due to the occlusive barriers and those emollients will help to maintain the fat/protein matrix between the watery cells.
Last up is this Facial Oil by Beekeeper’s Daughter. It’s different to all the other products we’ve looked at because it’s not a cream or a lotion….it’s a blend of oils. When used sparingly, oils can be a great addition to your natural skincare routine.
So…all emollients in this beauty which penetrate the skin, keep that matrix intact and make sure things are all smooth out there.
But which natural moisturiser is right for me…??
I’m really sorry that I can’t answer that question!! As we said at the beginning, your skin is unique. It is like no other skin in the world. But however your skin behaves and whatever your skin type, we recommend choosing high quality natural skincare that supports your skin’s own way of working. The focus should be on keeping our skin cells filled with water, maintaining the natural barrier formed between those watery cells and, balancing any products we use with the skin’s natural production of oils.
Look at labels and find a company you trust not to make exaggerated claims about what their product can do for you. Then look at the ingredients and see how they are going to fit into your natural skincare routine. The great thing about shopping on Green Elephant is that you can easily see the products are pure and safe and have high quality natural and organic ingredients. And if you need to know more about a product before you buy (like getting the low down on the texture and the suitability of the product for your particular skin type) you can go ahead and ask the Vendor.
It’s a tightrope and there’s no denying we’ll all fall off the wagon at some stage and do the wrong thing by our skin. Whether that means overdosing on caffeine (dehydrator alert) or choosing a product that’s not suited to our skin right now, we’ll all be guilty of it. But if you’re choosing a natural moisturiser made from quality ingredients, you’re definitely moving in the right direction.
And the best thing you can do for your skin…?? Drink your H2O!! It’s cheap, easy and widely accessible. Those outer skin cells will be kept watery and plump, your skin will remain flexible and hydrated. Beauty on the outside starts with beauty on the inside….Complement this with your natural moisturiser of choice and you’ll be winning in the skin department.