I’m a huge fan of face balms. When it comes to combating dry skin, they are hands down the best face moisturizer to choose. Facials oil, lotions and creams can all do well to protect the skin and restore elasticity, but balms are especially useful when you are combating stubborn dry skin or need to protect your skin from the elements. If you live somewhere that has cold temperatures like Montreal (where I’m originally from and currently live) or NYC (where I used to live!), you need something like a face balm to protect your skin from the cold and dry wind in the winter time.
A little bit of a tangent here but did you know that evergreen “leaves” are shaped like needles to survive long periods of draught? To evergreens, winters are draught season. Although there might be tons of water around them, it's usually not available because it is frozen. Evergreen needles are designed to prevent as much water from evaporating as possible.
So if you live in a cold winter climate, your skin sort of goes through the same stresses as when you live is a dry desert climate - and it needs love! This is where face balms come in. To understand why balms are so great, let’s dissect the basics of how to keep skin hydrated and look into face balm competitors for the “best face moisturizer for dry skin” competition. I’m going to get a little technical here - if you'd rather skip ahead, jump to the balm section below!
The skin is made up of hydrophilic (water-loving) and lipophilic (oil-loving) layers. The deeper part of our skin is hydrophilic while the top layer is lipophilic. Naturally, water is what keeps the skin hydrated, healthy, and functioning optimally. The top oil-loving layer has a natural oil called sebum that stops water from evaporating while also protecting the skin. So, water and oil work together to keep your skin healthy; water allows the skin to function and oils prevent water loss and protect the skin.
So what does a product need to contain to make your skin hydrated and healthy? There are three basic things a product needs to be to heal dry skin.
- Humectant: helps attract water to the skin. Humectants do not retain water, they just attract it. Examples of humectants are glycerin, honey and hyaluronic acid.
- Emollients: emollients provide a thin protective layer on the skin to protect and sometimes repair the skin. They often leave skin feeling soft too!
- Occlusive: occlusive agents help prevent water loss which results in hydrated skin.
So to recap, skin needs water and oil to stay hydrated and healthy. Humectants attract water into the skin. Emollients and occlusive agents, often plant oils, seal in that water and protect the skin like your natural sebum does.
How do face balms, facial oils, creams and lotions compare? Let's dissect.
Creams + Lotions
Similar in composition, both creams and lotions are made up of water, an emulsifier, a preservative, and at least one occlusive, emollient and/or humectant ingredient. Creams tend to have a higher quantity of the occlusive and emollient ingredients while lotions tend to have more water, making them thinner.
To give you an idea of what a typical lotion is composed of, here is a list of ingredients for a best selling face lotion:
Ingredients: Avena Sativa Kernel Flour (Oat), Benzyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Distearyldimonium Chloride, Glycerin, Isopropyl Palmitate, Petrolatum, Sodium Chloride, Water, Dimethicone
I’m not going to delve in too deeply into all the ingredients, but the thing to notice here is that there's a lot of extra "stuff" in here. Glycerin is a humectant which means it attracts water to your skin. Isopropyl Palmitate and petrolatum are emollients (softens the skin). Dimethicone is the occlusive ingredient which helps retain the water. Everything else is for texture, slip, scent or a preservative and has no benefits to the skin. These ingredients are listed in order of key ingredient to smallest percentage. Notice that all the important ingredients to keep your skin hydrated are last on the list.
So will this product work as a moisturizer for dry skin? Yes, but the thinness and the abundance of filler will mean that this product will need to be reapplied frequently because the percentage of moisturizing ingredients is low. What about natural creams and lotions? These will work better if they contain good quality plant oils. But they will still contain emulsifiers and most likely fillers as well.
- Light texture
- Contains water (hydrating)
- Low occlusive & emollient content
- Contains water (can be drying if not absorbed in the skin properly)
Facial oils and face serums are made from pure plant oils. No fillers, no water. In my book, plant oils are the best for keeping skin healthy. Oils are usually occlusive and emollient. Each oil is unique in its chemical composition which means it will interact with your skin differently. Some will be better at healing, others might be very good occlusive agents, etc. The best facial oils for dry skin will contain high levels of linoleic acid or GLA to help repair any skin barrier function issues, but will also have occlusive properties without being comedogenic.
My favorite oils for dry skin are rosehip oil, prickly pear seed oil, pomegranate oil, and evening primrose oil. Although these are great emollients and have occlusive properties, they are not “the best” at being occlusive. Hands downs the best occlusive ingredients are plant butters and waxes.
- Sink in relatively quickly
- High percentage of emollient ingredients
- Decent occlusive properties
- Occlusive properties might not be adequate for really cold or dry weather
- Do not contain any humectant ingredients or water
Face balms are made of plant oils, plant butters and wax (either beeswax or plant wax). Plant oils are amazing emollients that are chock-full of antioxidants, vitamins, and other nutrients to keep your skin healthy. Plant butters such as cocoa, shea and cupuacu make great occlusive agents that not only nourish, but also help keep water in. Waxes are also great occlusive agents, but can sometimes be comedogenic if too much is used. A properly formulated face balm will have the perfect balance of emollient and occlusive properties to keep skin hydrated, protected and hydrated. Unlike a face cream, balms don’t contain fillers and unlike a facial oil, a face balm contains a high percentage of occlusive agents.
So what’s the best butter for dehydrated skin? The clear winner is cupuacu butter. More effective than shea or even lanolin, cupuacu butter has the amazing ability to retain up to 440% its own weight in water. A butter that retains water? Yep, it’s amazing! It's also high in antioxidants and phytosterols that help prevent premature aging and the break down of collagen. If you are interested in reading more about amazing cupuacu, check out this study.
So why might you not want to use a face balm? Because of their thicker consistency. But that is why face balms create a better protective layer on the skin against damaging elements like wind and cold. If you don’t want to use a face balm during the day because of the texture, you can use a facial oil (or our favorite: a rosehip facial oil) during the day, and use a rich Regenerative Balm at night. Applying a balm at night will usually be a little more intensive than regular balms to be even more effective in healing dry skin. Our face balm is formulated to do just that. It also contains cupuacu butter, coQ10, and vitamin C for a little collagen boost too. . . #justsayin.’
- Great occlusive layer
- Offers additional protection to skin
- Thick in consistency
- Do not contain water
What’s missing from facial oils and face balms? Humectants and water of course. So for best results, use a face mist or toning mist with humectants (we love our Rose Essential Hydration Facial Mist with hyaluronic acid!) right before applying your face balm. Pure hydration followed by pure moisturize is really the best combo!! Your skin will thank you.