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Why Is There So Much Water In Our Products?

We all know water is good for your skin. Think about every person with glowing, hydrated skin you’ve ever prodded for their skincare routine and they’re like, “Oh, I just drink a ton of water.” Hell yes, internal benefits, we see you! But something occurred to me the other day: I was looking at a few of my product ingredients on Rate Your Routine and kept seeing the same thing over and over: water, aqua, water, water, aqua. If I’m supposed to be hydrating internally, why is there so much water in my skincare? Once again, I harassed Alison Cutlan, esteemed product developer of CUTLAN Lab, to answer my questions.

[Editor's Note: If you’re interested in learning more about percentages and active ingredients mentioned in this article, head to our last chat with Alison!]

Why is water typically one of the first ingredients listed on most skincare products? Water is typically 55-70% of a formula. It’s the universal solvent and ingredients need a carrier, although products with an ‘active water phase’ are of higher quality. [Editor’s note: Active waters are plant waters like aloe or rose water, for example.]

So tell me straight, does water cut down on the effectiveness of the active ingredients?
No, water is actually essential for chemical reactions to happen! But, if a product is mostly water it’s just not offering much to the skin.

What are the other ingredients that have an impact on water in a formulation?
Water is essential for every cell in your body to function and the skin contains ingredients that hold and shuttle water around. Aquaporins are the shuttle systems of water, hyaluronic acid is a water sponge in the dermis [the lower layers of the skin]. Formulas can and should contain ingredients that support and improve these systems. Using hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid in formulas can actually deliver this deeper into the skin for more hydration and it stimulates the production of endogenous [naturally occurring] hyaluronic acid. Film formers and humectants can attract water and keep it in the skin.

Break it down. What’s a “humectant”?
A humectant is something that attracts water from the environment and holds it. Glycerin is the most commonly used humectant, but others are hyaluronic acid, betaines [compounds in plant waters and juices], and lactic acid/sodium lactate.

When should someone seek out a water-based moisturizer over an oil-based?
Water-based hydration is a universal necessity for all skin types. The amount of oil can range whether your skin is very oily (use less oil) or very dry (use more oil) or seasonally.

Check if your moisturizer is right for your skin on Rate Your Routine

Is water an absolute necessity in some products? If so, why? Can’t I just drink more water?
Skin can be hydrated from within (drink more water) and from the outside (via humectants). Barrier creams help keep the moisture that is inside the skin from evaporating out.

Alison’s best practices:

  1. Drink lots of water.
  2. Use a water cream with humectants and hyaluronic acid hydrators to draw water in.
  3. Look for other actives that increase water transport and increase native hyaluronic acid in the skin.
  4. Use a ceramide or film-forming ingredient to lock water in!

Photo via @gelcream

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