7 Safe Ingredients For Dry Skin
- Dry, itchy, and scaly skin occurs when your skin is depleted of moisture
- Many moisturizer ingredients are naturally found in your skin
- Aging slows down the progression of naturally hydrating components within our skin
Dry skin is a problem many people face at some point in their lives. Many natural and/or pathological processes lead to dry skin and subsequent discomfort. In choosing moisturizers, many ingredients are reportedly beneficial for dry skin types. In this paper, we discuss the 7 best ingredients that help in alleviating dry skin. Herein, we describe the beneficial actions of hyaluronic acid, ceramides, urea, rose hip seed oil, squalane, jojoba oil, and coconut oil.
The stratum corneum is the most superficial layer of the skin. Acting as a water barrier, this dead layer of skin cells is held together by lipids, including fatty acids and ceramides. Dry skin results from a decline in these intercellular components with subsequent impairment of the stratum corneum barrier.1 As such, dry skin is characterized by discontinuity of the stratum corneum with a more than 90% decrease in moisture content.2
The appearance of skin can be essential to an individual, and any flaws, including dry skin, can impact one’s overall self-esteem. In addition, the feeling of dry skin can be quite uncomfortable. Dry skin can be described as tight or painful, and can sting and itch.
Moisturizers, more specifically the ingredients within the moisturizers, can help with the discomfort and appearance of dry skin. The application of moisturizers serves to increase the water content contained within the skin, which can alleviate symptoms of dryness, and also results in a smoother, more hydrated, and youthful appearance.
A key molecule involved in skin moisture is hyaluronic acid (HA). Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring component found within the skin, joints, and eyes. The skin has the largest amount of HA in the body, with 50% of total body HA present in the skin.3 It not only helps to hold on to moisture within the skin, but it also helps improve the appearance of wrinkles. As we age, the hyaluronic acid content in the skin diminishes.3 In fact, by adult age, HA is already decreased by 95%.4 The decline in hyaluronic acid contributes to dryness, sagging, and wrinkling.
Furthermore, HA is considered a humectant. Similar to a sponge, a humectant serves to attract water from the environment, as well as retain the water content within the skin.5 Interestingly, just 1 gram of HA can attract and hold up to 6 liters of water.4 Hence, HA is a common and popular ingredient found in many facial moisturizers. However, it is a misconception that, when applied topically, HA will penetrate the skin. This is because the molecular size of HA is too large to penetrate the epidermis.6
Recently, the development of “nano-hyaluronic acid” has helped to overcome this barrier. A recent study examined the moisturizing effect of different preparations of nano-hyaluronic acid including creams, serums, and lotions. The study reports significantly more hydrated skin compared to control subjects at 2, 4, and 8 weeks. This study shows that the new nano particles of HA can penetrate the skin when applied topically and provide long-lasting moisture.4
Ceramides are lipids (e.g., oils) naturally found in the skin. Within the moisturizer subclasses, ceramides are classified as emollients. Emollients function to hydrate and improve the skin’s natural softness, flexibility, and overall appearance.5
Ceramides are essential in maintaining and supporting the skin’s natural barrier and retaining moisture.5,7 They help to hold skin cells together, similar to the way cement holds bricks together. This function forms a protective layer that limits natural moisture loss and protects against other forms of damage and subsequent aging.5
In skin care products, ceramides are used to replenish the natural lipids in the skin that have been lost due to drying products, aging, environmental factors, and certain skin conditions, such as eczema.7
Urea, also known as a carbamide, is naturally present in the skin. In fact, it is one of the natural moisturizing factors found in the outer layer (i.e., stratum corneum) of skin.8
Moisturizers containing lower concentrations of urea (10%) act as a humectant.5 Recall that the function of humectants is to smooth and soften the outer layer of the skin by absorbing and preventing water evaporation within the skin. By softening the stratum corneum, urea can readily be released onto the skin surface.
It is important to specifically select a urea cream that specifies it is a moisturizer. At high concentrations (40%), urea acts as a keratinolytic, which promotes the breakdown of skin. For example, such preparations have been used to dissolve and extract infected or thickened nails refractory to traditional treatment.8 Hence, there is a delicate balance between keratin softening and breakdown.
Topical preparations containing urea are particularly helpful in skin conditions that are dry, itchy, and scaly, such as:8
- Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
- Ichthyosis (i.e., persistently dry, thickened, “fish scale” skin)
Rose Hip Seed Oil
Rose Hip seed oil is obtained via extraction from seeds of rose hip (Rosa canina L.).9 Specifically, rose hip is the round, red fruit that takes the place of the flower after it drops its petals.10
Rose hip oil is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is a main component of the many polyunsaturated fatty acids in the epidermis and serves to improve the structural quality and barrier function of the skin.10
This powerful oil is packed with beneficial nutrients for the skin. Not only does it provide moisture to the skin, but it also contains other beneficial ingredients:10
- Vitamin A: stimulates skin cells to improve and repair damaged skin and reportedly has anti-aging properties
- Vitamin E: supports the skin from burn injuries and helps protect against DNA damage
- Vitamin C: helps to support skin cells and promotes collagen generation
In addition to skin hydration, rose hip natural ingredients have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. As such, rose hip is reported to protect skin contents (i.e., collagen) from free radical damage, slow the process of photoaging, and enhance skin cell durability.10
Squalene is one of the most prevalent lipids naturally produced by skin cells.5 It is also a component of human sebum (oil). Squalene is derived from squalene through a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation of squalene creates its saturated form, squalene, making the oil much lighter in weight and more stable.
Although naturally produced by the body, squalene production begins to rapidly decline around the age of thirty, inevitably leading to drier skin.5 Replenishing the skin with squalene will help to not only moisturize the skin, but also enact powerful benefits, such as:5
- Antioxidant properties which help protect the skin from pollution
- Antibacterial and noncomedonal properties which may help with acne
- Safe for sensitive skin
- Safe for acne prone skin
- Light, odorless, and without an oily texture
- May also be used to treat skin disorders, such as seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff), psoriasis, and eczema
Jojoba oil (pronounced ho-ho-ba) is extracted from the seeds of Simmondsia chinensis plants.11 Although called an oil, it is actually a liquid-like wax, composed of 50% wax esters, which closely resembles natural human sebum (oil).11
Today, this oil is used to treat many skin conditions. Since jojoba oil is comprised of human sebum-like oils, dermatologic conditions with altered sebaceous barriers may particularly benefit from this oil. Such conditions include atopic dermatitis (eczema), rosacea, psoriasis, and seborrheic dermatitis.11
In addition to helping with various skin conditions, jojoba oil has been shown to have various cosmetic effects as well. While providing moisture to the skin, this oil also contains anti-inflammatory properties that function to:9
- Serve as an anti-aging ingredient to slow down the natural aging progression of the skin
- Help prevent skin infections
- Help promote wound healing
- Prevent acne breakouts
A popular oil commonly used on the skin is coconut oil. Coconut oil is extracted from the meaty white inner portion of mature coconuts from coconut palms (Cocos nucifera).9 This oil contains free fatty acids, which function to maintain the skin’s natural barrier.12
Skin that does not contain sufficient free fatty acids may have a compromised skin barrier. In fact, studies have shown that the application of extra virgin coconut oil on eczematous skin improved the severity of eczema, as well as helped the skin to retain more moisture.9
The facial application of coconut oil helps to minimize water content loss within the skin by improving the skin’s natural barrier. In addition to moisturizing the skin, topical application of coconut oil has been shown to:
- Improve and accelerate wound healing9
- Protect the skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation9
- Possess antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties13
In acne-prone skin, however, coconut oil should be used with caution, as it is one of the more comedogenic oils and can exacerbate acne.
- Certain ingredients may also help to improve the appearance of aging and other skin conditions
- Aging decreases naturally occurring moisturize components within the skin that can be replenished through various types of moisturizers
- It is important to apply moisturizers daily for the best results
- Loden M, Maibach HI. Dry Skin and Moisturizers: Chemistry and Function. CRC Press; 1999.
- Lynde CW. Moisturizers: what they are and how they work. Skin Ther Lett. 2001;6(13):3-5.
- Papakonstantinou E, Roth M, Karakiulakis G. Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012;4(3):253-258. doi:10.4161/derm.21923
- Jegasothy SM, Zabolotniaia V, Bielfeldt S. Efficacy of a New Topical Nano-hyaluronic Acid in Humans. 2014;7(3):3.
- Sethi A, Kaur T, Malhotra S, Gambhir M. Moisturizers: The Slippery Road. Indian J Dermatol. 2016;61(3):279-287. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.182427
- Lubart R, Yariv I, Fixler D, Lipovsky A. Topical Hyaluronic Acid Facial Cream with New Micronized Molecule Technology Effectively Penetrates and Improves Facial Skin Quality: Results from In-vitro, Ex-vivo, and In-vivo (Open-label) Studies. J Clin Aesthetic Dermatol. 2019;12(10):39-44.
- Choi MJ, Maibach HI. Role of Ceramides in Barrier Function of Healthy and Diseased Skin: Am J Clin Dermatol. 2005;6(4):215-223. doi:10.2165/00128071-200506040-00002
- Urea | DermNet NZ. Accessed October 16, 2021. https://dermnetnz.org/topics/urea
- Lin TK, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;19(1):70. doi:10.3390/ijms19010070
- Phetcharat L, Wongsuphasawat K, Winther K. The effectiveness of a standardized rose hip powder, containing seeds and shells of Rosa canina, on cell longevity, skin wrinkles, moisture, and elasticity. Clin Interv Aging. 2015;10:1849-1856. doi:10.2147/CIA.S90092
- Vaughn AR, Clark AK, Sivamani RK, Shi VY. Natural Oils for Skin-Barrier Repair: Ancient Compounds Now Backed by Modern Science. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2018;19(1):103-117. doi:10.1007/s40257-017-0301-1
- van Smeden J, Janssens M, Kaye ECJ, et al. The importance of free fatty acid chain length for the skin barrier function in atopic eczema patients. Exp Dermatol. 2014;23(1):45-52. doi:10.1111/exd.12293
- Verallo-Rowell VM, Dillague KM, Syah-Tjundawan BS. Novel Antibacterial and Emollient Effects of Coconut and Virgin Olive Oils in Adult Atopic Dermatitis. Dermatitis. 2008;19(6):308-315. doi:10.2310/6620.2008.08052