Moisturizers are products that help the skin retain moisture and maintain a normal skin barrier function. Great moisturizers need to deliver superior hydration while achieving a high level of consumer acceptance. This can be difficult because good hydrating ingredients tend to leave the skin feeling tacky. Facial moisturizers, in particular, need to be non-greasy, non-tacky, and fast absorbing. Oil in water emulsions based on polymer-stabilized lamellar gel networks are the dominant product form due to superior skin feel and moisturizing performance.
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Today’s moisturizer market
The market is broadly divided into hand and body products and facial moisturizers, however most facial moisturizers are rarely positioned as moisturizers but more as anti-aging products due to line/wrinkle reduction, and increased skin firmness and elasticity claims.
A good moisturizer can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by up to 30 percent. Moisturization performance is critical to make anti-aging claims since these claims need to be linked to moisturization and the appearance of skin in order to be classified as cosmetics and by the FDA.
Most consumers perceive skin dryness when the moisture content of the Stratum Corneum, or the outermost skin layer, drops below 10 percent. This normally occurs during the winter months when the air temperature and indoor humidity are low.
Good moisturizing performance is especially critical for hand and body lotion formulations since the hands and lower leg areas are especially prone to dry, flaky skin. Facial skin seldom reaches the same level of dryness.
Another important benefit of moisturizers is the ability to repair the barrier function of skin caused by chronic subclinical skin irritation. This occurs year-round and significantly contributes to skin aging. This is why all anti-aging/skin repair actives should be formulated in a good moisturizing base formulation.
My analysis of marketed hand and body lotions has shown that all of the top performing formulations are oil in water lamellar gel network based emulsions and three of 55 of these used cationic-based emulsifiers. These emulsions are highly substantive and help retain emollients and humectants in the Stratum Corneum, which is critical for superior moisturizing efficacy.
The top five all contained significant levels of Glycerin as the primary humectant (~5-20 percent), all contained petrolatum, and all contained skin barrier building ingredients. My top ratings were as follows:
- Vaseline Sheer Infusion Body Lotion (Unilever) contains 20 percent of a humectant blend (Stratys-3) which is claimed to moisturize skin significantly better than all of the leading hand and body lotions sold in Europe and North America at .5, two, and four hours after application.
• Stratys-3 is comprised of Glycerin, Hydroxyethyl Urea (Hydrovance-AkzoNobel Surface Science), Dihydroxypropyl Trimonium Chloride (Dow Chemical-proprietary to Unilever), as well as Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Extract (stimulates epidermal lipid production)
- Olay Quench Daily Lotion, with Vitamins E & B3 (P&G) contains Glycerin, Petrolatum (reduces transepidermal water loss (TEWL)), Isopropyl Isostearate (active hydrating emollient), Niacinamide (stimulates epidermal lipid production), Panthenol (soothing aid), Betaine (humectant, skin osmolyte)
- Curel Ultra Healing Lotion for Extra Dry Skin (Kao Brands) contains Glycerin, Petrolatum, Cetyl PG Hydroxyethyl Palmitamide (epidermal lipid mimic), Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Extract (stimulates epidermal lipid production)
- Gold Bond Ultimate Softening Skin Therapy Lotion (Chattem) contains Hydroxyethyl Urea, Glycerin, Ceramide II Complex (epidermal lipid mimic), Petrolatum (TEWL reduction), Panthenol (soothing aid)
- Aveeno Active Naturals Eczema Therapy Moisturizing Cream (Johnson and Johnson) contains Glycerin, Petrolatum (TEWL reduction), Ceramide II (epidermal lipid mimic), Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract (soothing aid), Panthenol (soothing aid)
Current moisturizer trends
Trends in formulating contemporary moisturizers include using green sustainable ingredients, paraben free, Propylene Glycol free, use of skin osmolytes/polymers as humectants and using epidermal lipid like ingredients (Ceramides, Ceramide mimics) and stimulants for skin barrier repair. The composition below is representative:
- Water (60-75%)
- Humectants (3-20%): Glycerin is most commonly used but can be quite tacky when used over 5%. Many top performing products use Hydroxyethylurea (Hydrovance-Akzo Nobel) combined with Glycerin due to its superior skin feel and hydration.
- The most effective humectant currently available is ElfaMoist AC Humectant (Acetamidoethoxyethanol-AkzoNobel Surface Science). It is more effective than Glycerin with significantly less tack.
- Skin osmolytes like Betaine, Inositol, and Taurine can also retain moisture in keratinocytes and prevent cell shrinkage.
- Emollients (5-15%): historically most hand and body lotion formulations used Petrolatum due to its ability to reduce TEWL or skin moisture loss. I recommend using emollients which can positively impact the crystallinity of epidermal lipids and have a good skin feel. These include:
- Isopropyl Isostearate for improved hydration
- Isostearyl Isostearate for reduced TEWL
- C12-13 Lactate for stimulating epidermal lipids production and hydration
- Skin barrier building actives (0-2%): These ingredients include Ceramides, Ceramide mimics—such as Cetyl PG Hydroxyethyl Palmitamide— and Ceramide II Complex. Another approach has been to use ingredients such as Niacinamide and Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Extract to promote the production of epidermal lipids in skin.
- High Hydrophilic-lipophilic balance (HLB) Emulsifiers (.2-2%): Cetearyl Glucoside, PEG 100 Stearate, Distearyl Dimethyl Ammonium Chloride, Ceteareth 20, PEG 40 Stearate
- Low HLB emulsifiers (2-7%): Cetearyl alcohol, Stearyl alcohol, Cetyl alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate
- Polymeric stabilizers (.1-1%): Xanthan gum, Carbomer, and Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer
- Preservatives (.5-1%): Phenoxyethanol, Benzyl alcohol, Benzalkonium Chloride
- Preservative potentiators (.05-2%): Ethylhexy Glycerin, Caprylyl Glycol, Hexanediol, Pentylene Glycol,
- Chelating agents (.05-.1%, also act as preservative potentiators): Glutamic acid, N.N-Diacetic acid, Sodium Phytate, Tetrasodium Iminodisuccinate
- Fragrance (0-.2%)
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