How Does Moisturizer Work? The Science Behind Your Skin Care Products

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Have you ever wondered how a moisturizer work to keep your skin healthy? Let’s take a deeper look into what happens when you put it on your skin.

Moisturizers work by attracting and trapping water in the top layers of your skin. This helps create a protective barrier against environmental factors, dehydration, and free radicals, which in turn, helps your skin stay healthy.

This article will teach you how a moisturizer works. You’ll also learn which kind of moisturizer works best for your skin. There are even some tips for caring for dry or sensitive skin. So, keep reading to find out.

How Does Moisturizer Work?

The skin’s natural barrier is made up of two parts: the surface layer (epidermis) and the lower inner layer (dermis). The epidermis protects us from infections, pollution, and other damaging influences.

The dermis contains connective tissue, blood vessels, nerve endings, and sweat glands. This layer also retains moisture and provides elasticity to the skin, which helps keep your skin flexible and youthful.

Moisturizers typically work by preventing water loss through your epidermis. They can also help boost your dermis’s natural ability to retain moisture and improve skin elasticity, according to Mayo Clinic.

Moisturizer gets its moisture from water molecules sitting on the surface of your skin. When you rub moisturizer into your skin, it takes these molecules with it to work. This helps to hydrate the inner layer of your skin, which in turn, keeps your skin healthy.

While moisturizers are designed to provide moisture, they also have other benefits. They can protect your skin from sun damage, keep it looking younger, and even help minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Types of Moisturizers and How They Work

1. Emollients

Emollient protects the outer layer of skin (the epidermis) from environmental damage such as sun exposure, harsh winds, or cold temperatures.

By applying an emollient regularly, you can reduce damage to your skin and slow down the aging process by helping to keep the outermost layer of your skin healthy.

How do emollients work?

Emollients, or emulsifiers as experts sometimes call them, work by preventing your skin from drying out. These compounds help prevent the evaporation of water from the surface of your skin, keeping it protected from environmental damage.

2. Occlusives

Occlusives also protect against environmental damage. Things like wind, cold weather, or sun exposure can cause the skin to dry out and become damaged or irritated. Occlusives help to protect the outermost layers of skin from these problems.

How do occlusives work?

Occlusives help to form a layer over the skin to reduce the amount of moisture lost. They work by forming a barrier on the skin to prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL).

Transepidermal water loss is how your body regulates its temperature. When you are cold, the evaporation rate is high, and when you are hot, the evaporation rate is low.

Occlusive prevents water loss during this process by reducing evaporation. This helps keep the skin hydrated, which is especially helpful in controlling dry skin.

3. Humectants

Humectants are moisturizers that help hydrate the skin by attracting and retaining water. They are hygroscopic, which means that they have an affinity for moisture. This affinity allows them to attract water from the air onto the outermost layer of the skin.

This is beneficial because it helps keep the skin hydrated and plump. When your skin is well-hydrated, it improves its ability to defend itself against harmful external factors and can help prevent signs of aging.

How do humectants work?

They attract water from the air, so when applied to the skin, they pull moisture out of the air to hydrate and plump it up. This process is called hygroscopy, which sounds fancy but just means that something absorbs water.

Forms of Moisturizer

There are many different forms of moisturizers, which can be confusing for someone looking to buy a moisturizer. The following moisturizer forms are the most common ones:


These are greasy, thick moisturizers that aren’t absorbed well by the skin and create a barrier against moisture loss. They’re useful for dry, cracked, or damaged skin.

For example, petroleum jelly is an ointment. It’s useful for diaper rash, minor burns, and other problems affecting the outermost layer of your skin.


Creams are moisturizers containing an emulsion of water and oil. Most creams have a moderate consistency that is neither too thick nor too thin. These products leave a protective layer over the skin, which is ideal for sensitive skin types.


Lotions have a thinner texture than creams or ointments and tend to be absorbed more easily into the skin. Experts usually recommend them for people with oily or combination skin because they are lighter than creams and ointments.


Gels are moisturizers that soften and soothe your skin without using any oil or grease. They’re water-based, so they don’t clog up pores or leave an oily residue behind on your skin. You can use them on any type of skin, even oily skin with acne problems.

Body butter

Body butter is a more heavy-duty option for combating dry skin. Formulated with thick fats such as shea butter and cocoa butter, these products contain ingredients that penetrate deep into the layers of skin to lock in moisture.

You can use these moisturizers on rough elbows and knees or anywhere else you might have severely dry skin.

How Do You Choose a Moisturizer for Your Skin Type?

There are many different moisturizers on the market, and they work differently for different skin types. To find the right moisturizer, you’ll need to choose one that works best with your skin type.

Oily skin

Oily skin naturally produces more oil than other types of skin, which is why it’s prone to breakouts. Look for a lightweight moisturizer that will work by controlling acne while keeping your skin hydrated and smooth.

Normal or combination skin

Normal or combination skin is usually neither too dry nor too oily. It produces just the right amount of oil on its own.

Look for a moisturizer with hyaluronic acid or ceramides — both ingredients work to balance out natural moisture that may be lacking due to external factors like weather changes or harsh soaps and cleansers.

Sensitive or dry skin

Many skin care products and ingredients can easily irritate dry or sensitive skin, so look for something hydrating, gentle, and fragrance-free.

You may even want to test the product on a small area of your inner arm before applying it all over your face to make sure there are no allergic reactions.

How Should You Use Moisturizer?

  • Start by cleansing your skin with warm water.
  • Squeeze a sufficient amount of moisturizer into your palms.
  • Rub the product between your palms until it is evenly distributed.
  • Apply the moisturizer to your skin, starting from the top and moving down toward your feet.
  • Use gentle circular strokes to avoid irritating your skin.
  • Follow with sunscreen and other skincare products.

How to Get the Best Results With Your Moisturizer

  • Apply your moisturizer when your skin is still damp — work it in about five minutes after your shower or bath. This way, the product will seal in the moisture from the water and help soften and condition your skin.
  • Make sure you’re using enough moisturizer — your skin should feel slick and slightly oily after application.
  • Make sure your skin is dry before getting dressed. This will ensure that the moisturizer absorbs well into your skin and doesn’t just sit on top of it.
  • For healthy-looking skin, choose a moisturizer that has SPF included in it. This way, you don’t need to apply sunscreen separately.


Does moisturizer reduce acne?

Yes, it does. Moisturizers help to hydrate and soften the skin. This helps to prevent acne by reducing dryness and overproduction of oil.

Moisturizers also keep pores unclogged by removing dead skin cells, which prevents blockages that could lead to pimples or blackheads. Moreover, some moisturizers contain ingredients that kill P. acnes, the bacteria that causes acne.

What happens if you don’t moisturize your skin?

Not moisturizing your skin can lead to dry, rough skin, which will make it difficult for your skin to hold its natural moisture.

Without the hydration that moisturizing provides, your skin can become cracked or even bleed. Your skin can also lose its elasticity and become wrinkled, dull, and lifeless.

Should you moisturize your skin?

Yes, you should. Moisturizing your skin is one of the most important parts of looking and feeling good. It’s also a vital step in preventing skin irritation, redness, and itchiness.

Moisturizers are designed to hydrate your skin and improve the overall appearance of your complexion. They can also help prevent visible signs of aging from occurring, such as wrinkles and dark spots.


Moisturizers are skincare products that help keep the skin hydrated. They prevent dryness, redness, and flaking of the skin. Moisturizers also come in many forms: creams, lotions, ointments, body butter, and gels are just a few examples.

Treating your skin with moisturizer can help improve your complexion and reduce fine lines and wrinkles. It also keeps the skin healthy by lowering the risk of infection. When your skin is healthy, you look better.

Thanks for reading.

Visit Serum101 if you want to learn more about the benefits of moisturizers and which products might be best for your needs.