Shea butter with shea nuts, daisies and oil

A Guide to Moisturizing

Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! Every skincare guru knows this is the secret to gorgeous skin, but there are so many options and words for products that basically accomplish the same thing - hydration, nourishment, and protection. Once winter hits, skin changes and needs even more of this than in the warmer months. The same cream that you loved in the summer can leave your skin feeling dry or dehydrated in a heated house or after a day on the slopes. Here is our guide to navigating the beauty aisles this year.

Types of Ingredients Found in Moisturizers

Emollients: Oils, butters, and waxes that protect, soften and nourish the skin. Plant oils are ideal because they are full of performing ingredients such as fatty acids, vitamins, and antioxidants. The rawer the oil, the higher the level of antioxidants because the refining process tends to damage them. Petroleum emollients such as mineral oil, paraffins and silicones are very common in conventional products. They may be good for protecting skin and locking in moisture but are inert and offer no active ingredients. They can be eco-toxic to our water systems as well.

Emulsifiers: Substances that bond oil and water together to create a cream or lotion. Usually a combination of a fatty alcohol (wax) and a small amount of detergent.

Waters: Can be distilled or reverse osmosis water, aloe vera juice (which is made with a freeze dried powder mixed into water), hydrosols (produced from essential oil distillation) or infusions of plant matter. They are used to hydrate and plump up skin in lotions and creams. The water binds to the oil in an emulsion and increases skin’s water level. Just using water will not do the same because it dissipates. Contrary to what some companies say, water has a very good place in skin care.

Thickeners: Natural waxes such as candelilla or beeswax are added to make the formula solid or thicker. An essential ingredient in balms.

Preservatives: Added to prevent unwanted bacterial growth in a water-based formula. There are numerous ingredients that are used for this but many of the controversial cosmetic chemicals fit into this category. It’s a MUST but there are safe versions out there.

Antioxidants: Added to protect the product from rancidity.

Actives: Substances added to enhance the performance of the product or offer sun protection. Natural products can contain hundreds of performing ingredients while conventional formulas usually contain one or two active ingredients like peptides or retinol.

Fragrances: Essential oils (distilled from plants) or ‘fragrance’/’parfum’, which can be a phthalate-free blend of natural isolates from plants or entirely petroleum chemicals. Some fragrances give people headaches, makes them the nauseous, and can even raise someone’s heart rate.

Types of Moisturizers

Facial Oils

Oils are usually a combination of fatty oils blended with essential oils and an antioxidant.The advantage of this type of product is that it is concentrated so it contains a heavy dose of moisturizer. The disadvantage is that it may be too heavy for some skin types and it does not contain water to increase hydration levels. It also doesn’t contain a wax portion so there isn’t a strong barrier to protect the skin. A great use of an oil is to add it to a cream or lotion to increase the thickness and performance of the product or to layer it under the cream.

Creams and Lotions

A cream or lotion is also called an emulsion because it has a water component and an emollient (oil) component that have been joined together by an emulsifier. Skin gets plumped up and rehydrated from the water while the emollient creates a nourishing barrier and binds the water to the skin. Hydration levels in the skin increase considerably after applying an emulsion.


These are thick blends of oil and waxes that usually contain therapeutic herbs and essential oils. They are heavy moisturizers and therefore a great option for extremely dry or irritated skin as well as lip care, hand and cuticle care.


These are products that are very similar to balms (oil and wax) but they contain a high amount of plant butters such as cocoa, shea and mango. They often get whipped into a lighter feel than balms. They are a great option for dry skin but tend to feel greasy to some.

Naturally, I’m only going to recommend that you look for plant-based, whole ingredient formulas. Look for botanical names on the labels and make sure they are the main ingredients (goes from highest % to lowest % in the ingredient list). Plants really are the answer to everything skin-related. Just like they nourish us from the inside, they are the ideal ingredients for healthy skin. Happy moisturizing!

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