Why all moisturisers are not the same.
Suzanne Wangmann, expert beauty journalist, finds one of the best moisturisers is also one of the oldest.
This time of year is a litmus test for how well your moisturiser works. There are many different reasons for dry skin – hormones, poor barrier function, wind and heat exposure – but particularly when the weather gets cold, and the air is drier, the skin all over your body can suffer. To find the best moisturiser for your skin, you need a little inside knowledge.
There are two different types of moisturisers: humectants and emollients.
Humectants draw water to the surface of your skin to help the top layers look and feel firm. One of the most commonly used humectants is glycerine, a sweet syrupy substance made by combining vegetable fats and water. For a quick way to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, glycerine is still considered one of the best ingredients.
But it is the other type of moisturiser, emollients, which are the most important when the air is dry or whenever you notice your skin feels dry or itchy, especially exposed areas of skin such as your face and hands. Emollients add a protective layer to skin to keep the moisture in and one of the best emollients available is cocoa butter. Why “best”? Because unlike sorbolene, petroleum jelly and other commonly used mineral-oil emollients, cocoa butter is a completely clean and natural vegetable fat which has the added advantage of having its own chemistry lab of natural goodies for your skin.
Have you heard of polyphenols? They are natural chemicals that plants produce to protect themselves from the dangers they can’t avoid, namely sun damage and being eaten. They also help plants to heal themselves and to transmit messages, such as when it’s time for fruit to ripen.
There are many different types of polyphenols but all of them are anti-oxidants (free radical scavengers) that protect the life of cells - including the cells in your skin that form collagen and elastin. Polyphenols absorb UV radiation, helping to reduce photo ageing caused by the sun. And many also have anti-inflammatory properties. (After sun damage, low-level chronic inflammation in skin is considered one of the leading causes of visible premature ageing.) Cocoa butter is believed to be one of the richest sources of polyphenols.
Cocoa products, including the natural butter of the cocoa plant, also contain polyphenols called catechins – the anti-oxidants found in green tea – and resveratrol, the longevity gene-protecting polyphenol found in red wine.
Do these polyphenols actually work when applied topically, or do you have to eat the stuff? A study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science by P. Gasser et al in 2008, showed that applied to skin samples (ex vivo) cocoa butter did increase skin elasticity, and collagen formation, suggesting that cocoa butter is not just a great moisturiser but also a true anti-aging ingredient.
Make sure you buy unrefined cocoa butter, that has been extracted from the roasted cocoa seeds using pressure rather than steam or solvents which can reduce, even destroy, the actives.
But cocoa butter is also “best” because at skin temperature, around 38 degrees, it melts, making it very easy to apply and to fill the gaps between skin cells to create the perfect barrier to hold the moisture in.
And guess what? Cocoa butter also contains glycerol or “glycerine” the gold standard of humectants. It is the wise-buy this winter, and all year round, for its moisturising and anti-aging benefits for face and body.