If the fountain of youth exists over the cosmetics counter, we’re yet to find it. But for those interested in simplifying the composition of their moisturizer, or nourishing their skin the natural way, there are ingredients that can help with that. Natural moisturizers (ex:coconut oil as face moisturizer) come in many forms: oils, natural fats or butters, waxes and more. They can be used on their own or carefully blended to suit their cause.
According to Practical Dermatology, moisturizing ingredients are one, or a combination, of three things:
- Emollients, which soften and smooth the skin.
- Occlusive, which provide a barrier that sits on the surface of the skin and prevents trans epidermal water loss.
- Humectants, which bind and hold water in the stratum corneum (i.e. skin).
A blend of all three properties is ideal, but it’s not the end of the world if you miss out on one. “With only one of these properties, you would still receive hydration and protection; however, with combining ingredients you create a synergistic effect, and these properties can be maximized to achieve optimum results,” says College of Natural Beauty trainer Trudie Dodd. “For example, I wouldn’t recommend olive oil used on its own for the face as, personally, I feel it could be too strong and heavy and may cause irritation.”
Paying heed to the particulars of your own skin type is important when selecting natural ingredients. But most will benefit from those that are high in antioxidants (which really do help fight the signs of ageing while combating oxidative stress), a range of fatty acids and vitamins.
Emollient, occlusive; good for: hair and body. Olive oil is plant oil that is made by pressing the fruit of an olive tree. Although its most common use is in the kitchen, olive oil can make a great addition to your skincare regime. It’s rich in antioxidants, high in vitamins A and E and is relatively odorless.
A 2007 Alternative Medicine Review study credited its skin-loving benefits to two main components: squalene and hydroxytyrosol. The former is an organic compound that has been identified as having an anticancer effect and the latter is one of the most powerful antioxidants in the world. However, olive oil isn’t easily absorbed by the skin (it tends to sit on top) so is best kept away from your face.
The Australian Olive Association says extra virgin olive oil is the purest and highest quality; virgin olive oil is slightly lower quality, but both are produced without chemicals. Light or extra-light olive oil is made by blending pure and natural olive oil with refined oils (i.e. oils that have been make fit for human consumption through a refining process).
Emollient; good for: face and body. Rosehip oil is extracted from the ‘hip’ or ‘fruit’ of a rose left over after the petals have fallen. It’s loved for its uniquely high content of fatty acids (around 75 per cent) and vitamin A, as well as its apparent healing properties. A recent study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science found that rosehip oil was useful in preventing and improving the appearance of stretch marks in a trial of pregnant women.
Kosmea Australia, a company that specializes in rosehip oil products, says it can be used to treat uneven skin tone, wrinkles and skin conditions such as psoriasis.
Emollient; good for: face and body. In the kitchen, almonds are adored for their abundance of good fats and nutrients (and let’s not forget their taste). In skincare, they make for an excellent odorless and vitamin E-rich moisturizer – light enough for your face and rich enough to be applied to your hair and body.
Almond oil is made by pressing raw sweet almonds, or Prunus Amygdalus, to extract liquid. Almonds (raw or toasted) can be ground to a paste to make almond butter – to eat or for a nourishing body scrub. Raw almond oil or butter is said to be higher quality. According to Nuts For Life (nutsforlife.com.au), almonds have an anti-inflammatory effect (“Antioxidants and other phytochemicals play an important role in reducing inflammation,” they said) and reduce oxidative stress.
Emollient; good for: face, hair and body. Nutritionally, macadamia nuts are a unique source of monounsaturated fats and contain vitamin B1 (which has a role in nerve function and energy production) and potassium (important for electrolyte balance and hydration). Macadamia oil is loved for its unique fatty acid profile, which makes it a fabulous product for dry, mature skin.
It is one of the richest sources of palmitoleic acid, which is vital for delaying skin and cell ageing, as well as oleic acid, linoleic acid and phytosterols, which promote hydration and are building blocks for cell membranes. It also contains omega 7, which is found in human skin sebum (oil), meaning it’s easily absorbed and suitable for problem, sensitive or ageing skin.
Potassium has also been linked to improved skin, with a 2004 study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology linking it to hydration, stiffness and PH. It is made by pressing the macadamia kernel.
Emollient; good for: face and body. Grapeseed oil is touted to be one of the most skin-friendly oils available because of its lightness, stability and antioxidants. A study published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine found that oligomeric proanthocyanins, or the antioxidants found in grapeseed oil, were successful in protecting skin cells against oxidative stress. It’s also high in vitamins C and E.
Grapeseed oil is made by grinding and pressing the seeds of grapes, which means it’s often a by-product of winemaking waste. According to wine writer Madeline Puckette, for around every 1200 liters of wine made, around four liters of grapeseed oil can be extracted.
Emollient; good for: face, hair and body. Coconut oil’s ever-increasing popularity could easily be attributed to its sweet, nutty taste and equally enticing fragrance, but many would say that it’s coconut oil’s health benefits that attract the masses.
Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain fatty acids, which (in a dietary sense) are more easily absorbed by the body and have anti-inflammatory effects. Numerous studies have compared coconut oil to mineral oil, which is derived from petroleum and widely used in cosmetics because it won’t become solid and clog pores.
Although coconut oil does solidify in colder temperatures, recent research found it to be superior in treating atopic dermatitis. In the International Journal of Dermatology study, 46 per cent of the participants who used virgin coconut oil had excellent improvement in their skin compared to only 19 per cent for mineral oils. Coconut oil is made my pressing the dried ‘meat’ of the coconut.
Butters and fats
Occlusive, emollient; good for: face and body. “Shea butter is one of nature’s best all natural beauty gifts,” says Irene Falcone of Nourished Life. “Rich in unsaturated fats, fatty acids, vitamins A, E and D, and antioxidants, this is an all-round full body moisturizer and skin food.” Shea butter is a rich, creamy fat extracted from the seeds of the karite tree and, as Falcone alluded to, it’s jam packed with things that are good for your skin.
In many skincare products, shea butter is in small amounts to moisturize and protect. As shea butter is an occlusive, it’s best used only in small amounts on the face.
Occlusive, emollient; good for: body and lips. Lanolin is a fatty substance found on sheep’s wool. It may sound gross, but lanolin’s thick, greasy properties are what make it such a great moisturizer. Lanolin has a similar structure to our skin’s own sebum, and is a great occlusive. In saying that, it’s typically used as an ointment or salve rather than as a day-to-day moisturizer.
The best lanolin is extracted from wool by squeezing or pressing it, but sometimes chemicals are used for this process as well. It’s also worth nothing that there are reported allergies to lanolin, although the likelihood is small. A 2001 study in the British Journal of Dermatology concluded that, on average, the likelihood of having a reaction to lanoline was around 1.7 per cent.
MANGO SEED BUTTER
Occlusive, emollient; good for: face and body. Mangos are wonderful. The sweet fruit is a symbol of summer and its yellow flesh is uniquely high in vitamins A, E and C. Mango butter is made by grinding and pressing the seed in the center of a mango to extract a rich, relatively odorless fat.
According to a 2008 study dedicated entirely to mango butter, published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Sciences, researchers found it has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and the high levels of vitamin E and plant fats “significantly reduce wrinkles and roughness of the skin while the repairing and protecting properties open up possibilities to formulate caring products for sensitive skin.” As mango butter is an occlusive, it’s best used in limited amounts on the face.
Occlusive, emollient; good for: face and body. Chocolate lovers beware: cocoa butter tends to retain some of its sweet, nutty smell – but that also makes it awesome. Like mango and shea butter, cocoa butter is an excellent plant fat; it’s extracted by pressing cocoa kernels, often after they have been fermented and roasted.
A 2008 study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science found that cocoa butter nutrients have a positive effect on skin elasticity and skin tones. As it is an occlusive, it’s recommended cocoa butter is only used in small amounts on the face.
Plants And Waxes
HONEY AND BEES WAX
Humectant; good for: face and body. Sugars are known humectants, which means honey can make a great addition to a natural moisturizer blend – although there are rumors that pure honey face masks are divine.
Most honeys have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties but the cream of the crop is Manuka honey, valued for its unique flavor and high level of antioxidants. Although there is little scientific evidence to say that honey can help with wrinkles or other skin woes, honey is proven to help heal wounds by providing food for bacteria.
Bees wax, a constituent of the process of honey collection, is frequently seen in moisturizers; it’s used to stop oil and other ingredients from separating (as an emulsifier) and to improve texture (i.e. make it smooth and creamy) and can have emollient properties.
Humectant (weak); good for: face and body Aloe vera is a favorite for treating sunburn and rough, red skin. It’s a succulent plant that has leaves that yield a gooey gel that starts clear and dries dark brown. This gel has been used throughout history to soothe and moisturize skin, but although it’s a common addition to modern cosmetics, there is little science to prove how or if it really works.
According to the Indian Journal of Dermatology, aloe vera has 75 potentially active constituents (i.e. vitamins, enzymes and sugars). The sugars (mucopolysaccharides) are said to help bind moisture to the skin.
Humectant, occlusive and emollient; good for: face and body Often mistakenly called ‘jojoba oil’, jojoba is actually a liquid wax that is uniquely awesome for our skin. “Because of their affinity to our own sebum, the wax esters in jojoba provide similar nurturing and moisturizing properties as our own sebum. This means jojoba products won’t clog pores the way oils can,” says Vicki Engsall of The Jojoba Company.
Jojoba is one of the few natural skincare ingredients that has all three moisturizing properties, making it a great one-product solution to natural moisturizing. It’s also rich in vitamins A, E and D, antioxidants and essential fatty acids.