What’s in Your Moisturizer?

Many find that over-the-counter moisturizers can be helpful to use as part of an overall skin care routine as well as helping with some symptoms like itching or burning skin.

While you may already know that moisturizers fall into three main categories (humectants, emollients, and occlusives), did you ever think about what’s actually in your moisturizer?

Breaking down the ingredients in your psoriasis skincare products

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.

Because many people with psoriasis may also have sensitive skin, it’s important to know what ingredients are in your skincare products.1,2

Aloe Vera

Some moisturizers contain Aloe Vera, which can reduce inflammation, itching, and pain. Aloe Vera naturally contains several chemicals, including salicylic acid, magnesium lactate, and gel polysaccharides.

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). Some people experience a mild allergic reaction after using aloe vera, so be sure to ask to your healthcare provider if this ingredient is safe for you.1,2


Bisabolol is a natural extract of the German chamomile plant, and is found in many moisturizers, cleansers, sunscreens, antiperspirants, and makeup products. Bisabolol naturally contains several substances, including sesquiterpene alcohol, chamazulene, and flavonoids.

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.2,4

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 psoriasis and atopic dermatitis.

Shea butter is made up of fatty acids, as well as antioxidants (which can also help the skin).3,6

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. Glycyrrhetinic acid can reduce inflammation and also has antiviral properties.3

Additionally, glycyrrhetinic acid has a soothing effect on inflamed skin, and is sometimes used to treat psoriasis and acne.2,6,7 Like Glycyrrhetinic acid, other licorice root extracts may also improve psoriasis symptoms.2


Some products contain niacinamide, which is a form of vitamin B3. Niacinamide has many benefits for the skin, including reducing inflammation and dryness, strengthening the outer layer of the skin, and improving keratin production.1,2,8


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. In one clinical trial moisturizers containing PEA significantly reduced itching, dryness, and lesions.2,3

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.9

Zinc Gluconate

Another common moisturizer ingredient is zinc gluconate. Zinc gluconate is the zinc salt of gluconic acid, and works by reducing inflammation. Zinc gluconate is used to treat many skin conditions, including acne, basal several carcinoma, and wounds.

Like zinc gluconate, other forms of zinc are used to treat dermatological conditions, such as warts, melasma, rosacea, and atopic dermatitis.1,2,10,11

Other considerations

Research shows that using products that restore the skin’s ceramide levels can improve skin conditions. Some people 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.12

For people affected by psoriasis, there are many different options for managing your symptoms and what works for one person may not work for another. Sometimes it can be a trial and error process to find what skincare products and ingredients help with managing your individual symptoms.

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