Wondering how to keep your skin hydrated, fresh, and glowing? Moisturizing effectively is a BIG part of the solution. Keeping your skin strong allows your skin barrier to do its job: protecting your internal system and working as the gateway between your body and the outside world. 

In my dermatology practice, I frequently get asked about various moisturizing ingredients. Here’s the quick rundown so that you can be SMART about your skincare.

3 Basic Categories of Moisturizing Ingredients

  • Humectants: draw water into the skin
  • Moisturizers: nourish and strengthen bonds between the skin cells
  • Barrier creams: form a protective film by becoming one with our skin so that water doesn’t evaporate from our skin into the external environment
Dr. Casey applying face cream on Eloise


Our skin is strongest when:

  • It has an optimal pH of 4.5-5.5
  • A barrier is in place (such as an oil or shea butter) to prevent transepidermal water loss (i.e. water leaving our skin and migrating into the air around us) 
  • It is well-hydrated (and not dehydrated)
  • It is well-moisturized (and not dry)
  • The bonds between our skin cells are strong (think of a brick and mortar image with the moisturizer working as the mortar to keep the bricks tightly bonded so that nothing the wall stays strong)

Examples of Humectants (ingredients that draw water into the skin): 

  • Glycerin
  • Hyaluronic acid (absorbs 1000x its weight in water; sometimes seen as sodium hyaluronate within ingredient lists)
  • Aloe vera

water droplet

Examples of Moisturizers (ingredients that act like glue or cement between skin cells):

  • Ceramides
  • Fatty acids
  • Cholesterol

Examples of Barrier ingredients (ingredients that prevent the loss of water from the skin): 

  • Coconut oil
  • Shea butter

One final BRIGHT thought: Moisturizing with something is better than not moisturizing at all.

When selecting the ideal products for your teenage skincare routine, an understanding of how each ingredient works with your skin will allow you to make a thoughtful and informed choice.


--Dr. Angela