What’s in Your Moisturizer!?

Last updated: February 2020

For many people affected by atopic dermatitis (AD), moisturizers are an important part of treating and managing symptoms.1 While you may already know that moisturizers fall into three main categories (humectants, emollients, and occlusives), did you ever think about what’s in your moisturizer?

Typically, moisturizers contain several active ingredients, and these ingredients can be very different from product to product. For example, humectants often include ingredients such as glycerin, lactic acid, panthenol, and sodium PCA, while occlusives often include petrolatum, mineral oils, lanolin, and silicone derivatives.2 Because many people with AD have very sensitive skin, it’s important to know what ingredients are in your skincare products.3

Here are some natural ingredients that you may find in moisturizers

Aloe Vera

Some moisturizers contain Aloe Vera, which can reduce inflammation, itching, and pain.3 Aloe Vera naturally contains several chemicals, including salicylic acid, magnesium lactate, and gel polysaccharides.2 Aloe Vera is used to treat many skin conditions, including psoriasis, burns, wrinkles, stretch marks, and pigmentations.4 While research shows that Aloe Vera can improve the skin’s hydration, Aloe Vera does not improve the skin’s ability to retain moisture (known as transepidermal water loss).3 Some people experience a mild allergic reaction after using aloe vera3, so be sure to ask to your healthcare provider if this ingredient is safe for you.


Bisabolol is a natural extract of the German chamomile plant3, and is found in many moisturizers, cleansers, sunscreens, antiperspirants, and makeup products.5 Bisabolol naturally contains several substances, including sesquiterpene alcohol, chamazulene, and flavonoids.3 Bisabolol can reduce inflammation and itching, and can also accelerate wound healing. Like with Aloe Vera, some patients experience a mild allergic reaction after using products that contain bisabolol.5

Shea Butter

Many moisturizers contain shea butter, a natural fat (lipid) that is derived from the fruit of shea trees. Shea butter reduces inflammation and is used to treat several skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.3 Shea butter is made up of fatty acids3, as well as antioxidants (which can also help the skin).6

Glycyrrhetinic Acid

Some moisturizers contain a substance called glycyrrhetinic acid. Glycyrrhetinic acid is a natural extract of licorice root, which grows in Greece, Turkey, and Asia.7 Glycyrrhetinic acid can reduce inflammation, and also has antiviral properties.3 Additionally, glycyrrhetinic acid has a soothing effect on inflamed skin3, and is sometimes used to treat psoriasis and acne.8 Like Glycyrrhetinic acid, other licorice root extracts may also improve AD symptoms.3


Some products contain niacinamide, which is a form of vitamin B3.9 Niacinamide has many benefits for the skin, including reducing inflammation and dryness, strengthening the outer layer of the skin, and improving keratin production.2,3,9 In a study of AD patients, moisturizers containing niacinamide led to better moisture-retention by the skin when compared to other products.3


Some moisturizers contain Palmitoylethanolamide (also known as PEA). PEA is a type of lipid and works by reducing inflammation and pain. Unlike other ingredients, PEA is naturally produced by the body.3 In a clinical trial of more than 2,000 AD patients (mild to moderate severity), moisturizers containing PEA significantly reduced itching, dryness, and eczema lesions. In the same study, more than 50% of patients were able to discontinue the use of topical corticosteroids due to the effectiveness of the PEA moisturizer.3 PAE may also be used to treat symptoms related to multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, irritable bowel disease, osteoarthritis, eye disorders, spinal cord disorders, and traumatic brain injury.10

Zinc Gluconate

Another common moisturizer ingredient is zinc gluconate. Zinc gluconate is the zinc salt of gluconic acid2, and works by reducing inflammation.3 Zinc gluconate is used to treat many skin conditions, including acne11, basal several carcinoma11, and wounds12. Like zinc gluconate, other forms of zinc are used to treat dermatological conditions, such as warts, melasma, rosacea, and psoriasis.11

Other Considerations

Research shows that using products that restore the skin’s ceramide levels can improve skin conditions. For people with AD, research shows that moisturizers containing natural or synthetic ceramides are most effective.13

Some AD patients use natural oils to moisturize their skin. Research shows that these products are most effective when they contain a ratio of low oleic acid to high linoleic acid. For example, safflower oil, sunflower seed oil, and sea buckthorn seed oil are natural oils that have meet these guidelines. Conversely, because olive oil contains much more oleic acid than linoleic acid, it may not be an effective moisturizer.13

For people affected by AD, there are many different options for managing your symptoms, including many different moisturizers to choose from. To better treat your AD, talk to your healthcare provider about what moisturizers are best for you, and be sure to read the ingredients for any skin care products that you use. To learn more about different moisturizer options, you can also reach out to the Atopic Dermatitis Community!

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