Guide to Moisturizing

A must-read for healthy, happy skin.

The winter months in a Northern climate are treacherous – icy roads, sub-zero temperatures and worst of all, dehydrated skin. It happens to the best of us as we become shut-ins in heated buildings that zap precipitation from the air and our skin. It is more complicated than simply increasing our water intake. For many of us, getting soft dewy skin requires a daily commitment to moisturizing. The skincare industry seems to birth a new product daily so making a purchase is not as simple as one would expect. There are many different types of moisturizers, a huge variety of ingredients and more than a few things to consider for the health of your skin.

Types of Moisturizers

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, a substance that prevents separation. Skin gets plumped up and rehydrated from the water while the emollient creates a barrier to lock it in. It delivers a small amount of oil to the skin so it is great for people that prefer a lighter feel. Be very cautious of the ingredient list as it is the most difficult type of product to preserve and tends to be more chemical and/or toxic in nature. Look for natural ingredients such as plant oils because they contain vitamins and nutrients to nourish your skin.

Facial/Body Oils and Serums

Oils and serums are usually a combination of emollients and active (performing) ingredients. The advantage of this type of product is that it is concentrated so it contains a heavy dose of antioxidants, vitamins, fatty acids and other substances such as hyaluronic acid and peptides. The disadvantage is that it may be too heavy for some skin types and it does not contain water to increase hydration levels. A great use for an oil/serum is to add it to a cream or lotion to increase the thickness and performance of the product.


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. They would be too heavy for most faces and do not contain water.


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.

Types of Ingredients Found in Moisturizers

Waters: Can be plain water, aloe vera juice, hydrosols (produced from essential oil distillation) or infusions of plant matter. Found in emulsions, it hydrates and plumps up skin while helping to deliver a thin amount of oil to lock it in.

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. Petroleum emollients such as mineral oil, paraffins and silicones (found in most conventional formulas) may be good for protecting skin and locking in moisture but are inert and offer no nourishment. They can be eco-toxic to our water systems as well.

Emulsifiers/Thickeners: Substances that bond oil and water together and thicken the product. Usually a combination of wax and detergent.

Preservatives: Added to prevent unwanted bacterial growth and rancidity. There are many unsafe or controversial forms of this ingredient so pay attention to the last items listed on a label to see what preservative is being used. 

Actives: Substances added to enhance the performance of the product or offer sun protection. Natural products can contains hundreds of performing ingredients while conventional formulas add one or two active ingredients to inert chemical formulas.

Fragrances: You have a choice between synthetic and natural fragrance. Synthetic has many toxic concerns and can trigger asthma, headaches and other allergic reactions. Natural fragrance, usually in the form of essential oils distilled from plants, can also cause allergic reactions but are much safer and contain many therapeutic properties.

Additional Tips:

1. Ingredients on a skin care label are listed in order of percentage from highest to lowest. Look for plant and nut oils as the first or second (next to water) ingredients to determine the quality of a product. Many companies will use cheap fillers to create the bulk of a formula so watch for ingredient lists that begin with a chemical rather than a botanical.

2. For a list of ingredients to avoid, take a look at the David Suzuki Foundation’s Toxic Ten Ingredient List.


Cocoon ApothecaryCocoon Apothecary is an artisanal skin care company that embraces the power of nature to deliver a luxurious product without compromise. Based in Kitchener, Ontario, it makes skin and body care products that are as good for your skin as they are for the Earth.