In answer to the title of this article you may expect that the response is “it’s organic or natural” but that goes without saying. However, this article takes a deeper look at the classes of ingredients, the skin benefits of these ingredients and their impact on the skin. The basic aims of a good moisturiser is to maintain or restore skin barrier systems and to improve overall skin health. At a cellular level it is important that the formation of the epidermis or outer layer of skin is supported, as this is the foundation of an effective protective layer.

A well-formulated moisturiser will have the following properties:
• Mimic skin structure and function
• Slow trans epidermal water loss
• Maintain the skin’s protective barrier
• Nourish the skin by providing nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and essential fats
• Have a moisture saturating effect i.e. provide the skin with the moisture it needs
• Have a balanced pH
• Have a restorative effect i.e. work to improve superficial skin damage

In addition, it is important that the formulation looks, feels and smells nice. The aesthetics of a formulation have a large impact on its use. After all, a formulation can have amazing properties but if it sits on the bathroom shelf without being used, it is no good to anyone.

In order to achieve the above aims, a good moisturiser obviously needs to contain active ingredients but just as important are the base ingredients. In many cases, the base carriers, emollients (softening and soothing) and humectants (retains water) could also be considered active ingredients if well chosen.

Base ingredients are those that make up over 50 – 70% of the formulation. They are responsible largely for protection and hydration. If formulated well with ingredients such as fruit, seed and plant oils or gels, they will also provide some nutritional value.

The growing sophistication of natural and organic formulations highlights the key differences between these and their synthetic counterparts. Obviously the lack of potential toxic or irritating colours, fragrances and preservatives is a major difference, however, returning to the original premise of the article, “what makes a good formulation”, the key difference by proportion of formulation is actually the base ingredients. Comprising over half of the formulation, they can either actively promote skin health, or have a somewhat neutral effect.

By way of example, petroleum has an excellent and immediate barrier effect on the skin however, it sits on the surface of the skin and so stops the skin breathing and depending on where it is sourced may potentially be a source of toxic contamination. On the other hand, Shea Butter also has an excellent barrier effect but is also a source of vitamins A and E, iron and essential fatty acids. In addition it penetrates the skin readily, has an emollient effect and supports skin elasticizing. As you can imagine, a formulation containing Shea Butter is much more likely to meet the essential criteria of a good formulation.

Active ingredients are more likely to help to restore skin health and provide skin nourishment. These include antioxidants, vitamins, amino acids and minerals. They may make up between 5-10% of a formulation. These days it is common to see the same active ingredients in a good organic formulation as it is in an expensive department store brand or dermatologist cosmedic range. Ingredients such as vitamin C, alpha hydroxy acids, retinoids, hyaluronic acid and peptides are no longer the exclusive domains of dermatologists.

Depending on the formulation colours and fragrances make up less than 5%. An organic formulation is unlikely to have any added colours or fragrances but rather utilizes the natural fragrances of essential oils, which are in fact considered actives or essential oil based preservatives, which again give the formulation its fragrance.

Preservatives may also contribute up to 5% of a formulation. Depending on whether the formulation is natural or synthetically based, the preservatives will be either essential oil or plant based or a synthetic alternative such as parabens. Some organic products contain chemically modified preservatives i.e. the starting material is natural but it is modified to have a preservative-like effect. One example of this is phenoxyethanol. There are a number of ways of manufacturing this preservative however the form that is acceptable in organic formulations is based on natural starting materials.

Determining a good moisturiser from one that is…well average cannot be based on the active ingredients alone. A holistic review of the ingredients including the base formulation, colours, fragrances and preservatives will determine this and if after this you are still unsure, ask! Contact the manufacture, check the Skin Deep database or ask the retailer for a detailed explanation of ingredients so that you really know what you are putting on your face each day.

To review the ingredients of some very good organic moisturisers, click here!

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