Urea: Super Moisturiser And Great Alternative To Acid Peels

Updated on April 2012

urea mosturiser

   Urea can be a super moisturiser, or work like an exfoliating acid. How does it work, and is it safe ? And how can you add it to your cosmetic routine ?

Is there pee in it ?

Before you ask yes, urea comes from urine. And before you get disgusted:
1. A lot of urea is synthetic. (Actually, it´s the first ever organic compound to be created from something inorganic, and this broke the theory that "vital force" of a living being was necessary to create an organic compound).
2. You have already been using urea: it´s in pretzels, toothpaste and cigarettes. It has been used in cosmetics since over 40 years, but was often omitted on the label, so as not to shock people. However recently it has become popular.
3. The skin also naturally contains urea, it´s one of the ingredients of the NMF (natural moisturising factor), this is explained pretty well here.

What does urea do ?
This depends on its concentration !
  • 5-10% -- Highly moisturising. It softens the skin, and makes it smoother. Lessens flaking.
  • 10%-50% -- works like an acid: helps with exfoliation and makes the skin penetrative for other ingredients of the cosmetic. Helps with discolourations. There is no intensive flaking like after using acids, only rolls of skin, similar to it can be compared to how the rubber rolls after erasing.
  • 50% and above -- Used to heal flaking skin, atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

  • Urea is antibacterial, great for acne skin.
  • It doesn´t cause allergies.
  • It doesn´t block pores, so its perfect for anybody with acne.
  • Helps with healing, so it´s great to use after epilation or on irritated skin.
  • Helps against Seborrhoeic dermatitis (aka seborrheic eczema (inflammation of the skin).

    Cosmeticsinfo.org rates it as safe, but cosmeticsdatabase isn´t very happy with it. I read a thing about urea being alkaline, and this disturbs the pH level of the skin (which should be on the acidic side). Because of this the trend is moving from Urea to lactic Acid and Hylauronan as the main moisturising ingredient.
   I´m bothered with the fact that the alkaline pH makes urea a penetration enhancer: it makes it easier for other ingredients to penetrate the skin. If the other ingredients are safe, then it´s all good. However if the other ingredients are a bunch of parabens, perfumes and other nasty stuff, well... avoid it.

Want cosmetics with urea ?
   Make sure urea is near the top of the ingredients list. If it´s near the bottom, there are only tiny quantities used as a preservative (it´s antibacterial, remember ?) and won´t do much for your skin. If you're looking for slightly higher concentrations of urea, products meant for hands and feet are more likely to have that than moisturisers for the face.
    Hand a foot products with higher concentrations of urea can't be beat for moisturising cracked heels and ever-dry hands.
   You'll want a product that clearly shows which concentration of urea it contains. Just for education's sake, here is the nice ingredients list of Kneipp Körpermilch Nachtkerze 10% Urea; and a negative example of the Iso-Urea Body Milk form La Roche Posay, which contains mineral oil, silicones, parabens and (as per lab tests by Öko test) formaldehyde, PEGs and chlorphenesin.

Want to add urea to cosmetics ?
    You can buy it in online stores in the form of a white powder and add it to homemade cosmetics, like a face or body moisturiser. It´s best to first mix urea with a bit of water, then add that just to the portion of moisturiser you will use today. This is because urea gets hydrolized easily. If you want to add it to a bigger batch of product, urea needs to be stabilised by Lactic acid (for example yoghurt).
    Urea doesn´t dissolve in oils, and I´ve also heard that it doesn´t dissolve in lotions (as opposed to creams) !  Don´t use too much, read what I wrote about the concentrations on top of the post ! It´s always better to add to little than too much.

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