Skincare Basics: Moisturizers – The 3 Components of a Good Moisturizer

Hi, tribe! I hope you’re having a wonderful day! Before we begin, I’ve got an important question for you —

Does your skincare regimen include a moisturizer? 

I’ve had some people message me saying that they only use a cleanser in their skincare routine, and while a gentle cleanser is great for your skin, you need a moisturizer too! 

Remember in Episode #25, I talked about the five-step skincare success framework? Moisturizers were one of the key elements in that framework — and it doesn’t matter what your skin type is! Whether you have normal skin, combination skin, dry skin, sensitive skin, or oily skin, you need to be using a moisturizer every day. (And contrary to common belief, moisturizers DON’T cause acne!) 

Moisturizer doesn’t just help keep your skin hydrated, but it also helps treat skin conditions such as eczema and reverses signs of aging. However, not all moisturizers are created equal — the best moisturizers have three fundamental components that we’ll discuss in this episode. 

You’re going to learn a lot about moisturizers today, including how they work, why you should use them, which ones you should include in your skincare regimen, and how your skin type factors into all of this! Moisturizers are one of the foundations of great skincare, and I’m so excited to devote an entire episode to them! Let’s dive in, tribe! 

The Importance of Water Homeostasis

In Episode #26 about skin types and Episode #25 about the skincare success framework, I talked about how water homeostasis is the key to a healthy skin barrier. Without moisture, your skin isn’t protected and can’t heal properly. 

Unfortunately, moisture in your skin can be lost in many ways. Excessive hand washing, environmental stressors, aging, and inflammation can all lead to a loss of moisture in your skin, which means that your skin barrier has been compromised. This is where moisturizers come in to save the day! 

Now, it’s important to note that moisturizers don’t actually add water back into the skin. Instead, they minimize the transepidermal water loss — the water that’s lost through the top layer of the skin, which is called the stratum corneum. A good moisturizer helps draw water into the stratum corneum, adding smoothness and softness back into the skin. Without a moisturizer, your skin will suffer the effects of transepidermal water loss much more quickly and severely. 

Now that we’ve covered why a moisturizer is an essential product for your skincare regimen, you may be wondering, “Which one should I get?” If you go into any drugstore, you’ll be met with tons and tons of moisturizing options, but which ones are worth investing in? 

The Three Core Components Every Good Moisturizer Needs

Have you ever looked at the ingredients list before you buy a product? It’s confusing, isn’t it? Before I became a board-certified dermatologist, I was confused too — I had no idea what the long list of ingredients meant. 

Thankfully, now I know what they all mean, and I’m so happy to share that information with you! Like I said before, some moisturizers are way better than others, and you can tell by looking at what ingredients they have. By learning what ingredients to look for, you’re on your way to happier, healthier skin!

Now, I’m not going to discuss all the ingredients today, but I am going to simplify the most common and important ones, which belong to three different classes.

Moisturizing Component #1: Humectants

When you think of humectants, think of the word “humid” — that’s how I remember what they do! In short, humectants attract water from the environment. They can attract water from external environments, such as the humid air outside, and also from the innermost layer of your skin, which is called the dermis. Humectants keep your skin naturally hydrated, so when you’re looking for a moisturizer, you want one that contains humectants! 

Here are four different humectant ingredients that you should keep in mind when looking for a quality moisturizer: 

  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Glycerin
  • Panthenol
  • Urea

Keep in mind that you don’t need a moisturizer that contains all of these ingredients. Just look for one that includes at least one humectant to keep your skin barrier healthy. 

Moisturizing Component #2: Emollients

Emollients smooth out any dry or flaky patches on your skin. Think of those places on your skin that are typically dry — especially during the wintertime. Emollients help soften and smooth out those places and improve your skin barrier function. 

Another thing that emollients do is increase the elasticity of your skin, which reduces that tight feeling of unhealthy skin. In Episode #30, I talked about toners and how astringent toners will increase that tight feeling, which is not healthy for your skin. Think of emollients as the opposite of those astringent toners — you want them in your moisturizer!

Here’s a list of the top four ingredients that fall into the emollient category:

  • Ceramides
  • Dimethicone
  • Tocopherol
  • Shea butter

Out of those four, my favorite are ceramides! Always choose moisturizing brands that contain ceramides — they’ll make your skin silky smooth and so soft. 

Moisturizing Component #3: Occlusives

Occlusives offer a protective film on the skin surface and slow down transepidermal water loss (the evaporation process of the moisture on your skin). Now, keep in mind that they don’t keep things from penetrating the skin barrier — they just slow down the water evaporation process. 

Here are my top four occlusive ingredients: 

  • Petroleum jelly
  • Mineral oil
  • Plant oil
  • Dimethicone 

As a dermatologist, I recommend Vaseline all the time to treat dry skin and eczema — petroleum jelly is absolutely magical! The protective layer that it creates keeps your skin from losing water as quickly, making it an essential ingredient for a moisturizer. Especially in the cold, dry winter months, Vaseline is a lifesaver for dry skin and cracked lips.

Choose a Moisturizer Based on Your Skin Type 

There you have it, tribe! Humectants, emollients, and occlusives are the three components you need to look for in a moisturizer! 

Now, you may be thinking, “Should I use multiple moisturizers so my skin receives all these ingredients? Do I mix moisturizers together?” Instead of using multiple moisturizers, find one that contains all those three elements combined! Having multiple moisturizers only makes things confusing, and I’m all about mindful, simple skincare. The more complicated it gets, the harder it is to keep it consistent. By making empowered decisions regarding your products, you can create a skincare routine that’s both easy and successful! 

If you want some recommendations on moisturizers, refer back to Episode #26 or read the blog! Certain skin types need more or fewer ingredients than others, so make sure to determine your skin type before making any product decisions. 

For example, oily skin types don’t need too many occlusives or emollients, and they do better with gel-based moisturizers that contain more humectants. If you have oily skin, it’s easy to assume that you don’t need moisturizer, but this could not be further from the truth! Moisturizer will actually prevent increased sebum production, so if you skip this step, your skin will actually produce more oil. One of my favorites for oily skin is Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel

However, if you have dry skin or sensitive skin, you don’t want to use a gel moisturizer because those are alcohol-based. Instead, opt for a cream-based moisturizer! If you have dry skin, I recommend using a thick cream-based moisturizer at least twice a day. This will keep your skin barrier protected.

The bottom line is always to listen to what your skin is saying. Is it irritated? Is it responding well to the moisturizer? Is it dry and flaky? Remember — your skin will give you the best feedback, and of course, your dermatologist will too! If you don’t currently have a dermatologist, you can find one here

Moisturizer Is Essential for Your Skincare Success

Tribe, I’m here for you! Navigating skincare products can be confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. I hope this information empowered you to find a moisturizer that suits your skincare needs and skin type. Skincare doesn’t have to be complicated — remember, it’s all about making mindful decisions and keeping your skincare routine consistent! 

The bottom line is: Don’t skip a moisturizer in your skincare routine. It’s absolutely essential for your skincare success!

If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to let me know on Instagram! You can tag me, @drnikoleta, with a screenshot of the episode and your greatest takeaways. I’d also really appreciate it if you would subscribe and leave a five-star rating on Apple Podcasts — that helps us share the podcast with more people like you who are looking to achieve the skin of their dreams! 

And if you want to get even more plugged in, check out the podcast Facebook Community! This is an exclusive group of like-minded individuals who prioritize skincare, self-care, and healthcare — we’d love to have you join us!

Until next time, Step Out with Confidence®, love yourself, and have an amazing, moisturized week! 


I am a board-certified dermatologist, CEO and Founder of Healthy Skin Blueprint, an acclaimed podcast host, best-selling author, and nationally recognized skin, hair, and nails expert. Welcome to the Skin Talk with Dr. Nikoleta blog.


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