Don’t sleep on urea — it’s an ingredient that can relieve the driest, flakiest skin

We have to admit, there’s absolutely no dearth of skincare ingredients in today’s day and age; from the most exotic Ayurvedic ingredients to potent, unheard-of chemical actives, there are a bunch of products that champion each ingredient under the sun — perhaps, even a combination of many, like we’ve treated our products at Gunam Beauty. While that makes for a great state of affairs in the beauty industry for both the consumers as well as the market players, it’s fair to say that this stream of advancements has pushed the basics to the backseat. Ingredients like glycerin, vitamin E and urea, for instance, are just not given the credit they deserve anymore. However, that doesn’t change the fact that they still retain the same merit when it comes to benefitting your skin. For instance, urea, despite being a debatable ingredient, is a great emollient and a key paramount of your body’s NMF (natural moisturising factor). We reach out to Dr Varshini Reddy, celebrity dermatologist and founder of The Glow Clinic to decipher everything about urea at once.

p.s. You can find all our products at the beautiful Glow Clinic locations in Hyderabad and Chennai. 

What is urea?

Did you know that urea was discovered by Hilaire Rouelle, a French chemist, in 1773? Flip any bottle or jar of a moisturiser that promises to alleviate dryness and flakiness, and high chances are that you will spot urea in the ingredient list. “Urea is a naturally occurring compound that plays a crucial role in the body’s waste removal process. With respect to skincare, urea is widely used for its moisturising and even exfoliating properties,” says Dr Reddy. She throws light on how besides being an emollient, urea also plays the role of a humectant. “Due to its unique ability to attract and retain water, urea acts as a powerful humectant, which helps to hydrate and soften the skin over regular use. It also functions as a keratolytic agent, which means it helps to break down and remove dead skin cells, promoting cell turnover and a smoother complexion.” Additionally, urea has antimicrobial properties, making it effective in treating certain skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, furthers the skin doctor. Just like hyaluronic acid or collagen, urea is also a naturally-occurring ingredient in the body. And, does pretty much the same job as any of the other humectants — it prevents water loss, albeit, the only difference being that it also offers some amount of exfoliation. 

What are the benefits of urea?

Remember that urea is more effective than many other ingredients out there when it comes to dissipating dryness … to the extent that it can also relieve chapped, cracked heels and unveil smoother and softer skin. Dr Reddy is of the opinion that urea’s exceptional ability to hydrate the skin stems from its hygroscopic nature. Elaborating on the same, she says, “It possesses the capability to attract and retain water molecules from the surrounding environment, thereby, drawing moisture into the skin. This process, known as osmosis, allows urea to increase the water content within the skin. By doing so, urea helps to restore and maintain the skin’s natural moisture balance, resulting in improved hydration, softness and suppleness.” The skin expert highly recommends urea, as a skincare ingredient, for individuals with conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or keratosis pilaris, as it helps to soften and exfoliate the skin, reducing flakiness and promoting a smoother skin texture. However, every and any skin type can benefit from the multi-action properties of urea.

Can it be potentially damaging?

Before delving into whether urea can have any adverse effects on the skin, it is key to note that the concentration of the ingredient (in any product) that you’re using is what majorly influences your skin’s experience with urea. “The most commonly used urea creams above 10 per cent span somewhere within the urea 20 to urea 40 range,” reveals an article by Byrdie. There’s a possibility of a problem surfacing in case you happen to use a higher concentration on areas where it [high concentration urea] isn’t required in the first place. “Some people may experience skin irritation, redness or a burning sensation, especially if they have sensitive skin or if the product contains a high concentration of urea. In rare cases, it may also cause an allergic reaction, resulting in itching, swelling, or rash. Thus, it is important to patch test new skincare products,” recommends Dr Reddy. In addition to that, we also recommend checking the concentration of urea in any cream that you invest in. For instance, our Balance Face Cream contains 0.5% of urea, making it suitable for all skin types out there, without causing any reactions generally. 

Own it

Incorporating urea in your skincare regime is a cakewalk, once you’ve cracked the concentration math. According to Dr Reddy, the best way to incorporate urea into your skincare routine is to start with a low-concentration product and gradually increase as tolerated. “Urea is often found in moisturisers or creams, which can be applied after cleansing and toning the skin,” begins the skin expert, “Certain creams with occlusive properties containing urea can create a barrier that may impede sweat evaporation. This can cause discomfort for some individuals. To avoid this, choose lighter formulations, use creams in moderation or perhaps, explore alternative moisturisers (for your skin type),” advises Dr Reddy.