What is urea?
Urea is the primary organic solid of urine. It aids in protein synthesis and provides the body with beneficial nitrogen. This natural moisturizer is found in healthy skin, though dry skin has lower levels.
In addition, urea boasts antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial properties. Because it has antimicrobial abilities, urea products may require fewer preservatives, writes G. Todorov, Ph.D., on Smart Skin Care.
Urea has various benefits for your skin. It:
- Minimizes water loss. Urea reduces the amount of water lost through skin's epidermis, or outermost layer, write James J. Leyden and Anthony V. Rawlings in their book, Skin Moisturization.
- Moisturizes. Due to its superb water-binding power, urea is an effective moisturizer and humectant, drawing moisture to the skin and hydrating dry areas. In fact, it's a natural moisturizing factor (NMF) that appears in skin's outer layer. It's used to help dry skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
- Strengthens skin's barrier. Urea helps skin cells renew and regenerate, thus keeping skin's barrier strong and healthy. In turn, a strong skin barrier can keep out potential irritants, according to the New Zealand Dermatological Society (NZDS).
- Improves penetration of other ingredients. Because it acts on the skin's barrier, urea can help other ingredients, especially hydrocortisone, to penetrate and be absorbed by the skin. There's been some concern that reducing the barrier makes it easier for toxic substances to enter the skin, note Marc Paye, Andre O. Barel and Howard I. Maibach in Handbook of Cosmetic Science and Technology.
What you can expect
Because of urea's excellent moisturizing capability, dry skin will find exceptional relief. You should notice supple, softer skin. Dry patches should diminish, while skin texture should improve, becoming smooth and resilient.
Where you can find urea
Urea can be found in cosmetics, skincare and personal care products, such as: moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste, hand cream and foundation. It's also an ingredient in medical products, like: ear wax softeners, diuretics, fertility drugs, estrogen supplements and wound or burn ointments. Carbamide, the synthetic version of urea, is often found in over-the-counter and prescription skincare preparations and medical treatments.
You may be interested in the following products that contain urea:
Who should avoid urea
Generally considered safe, products with urea are beneficial for all dry skin types. However, urea may not be appropriate for the following people:
- Oily or acneic skin. You may find that products with urea are too rich, which could exacerbate oiliness or breakouts.
- Extremely sensitive skin. Urea can cause stinging in people with sensitive skin, writes dermatologist Leslie Baumann, M.D., on Yahoo! Health.
- Young children. Unless your child's doctor has prescribed urea cream for a specific skin condition, it's generally not recommended for children under three years old.
- Red, bleeding or infected skin. Don't use urea on these types of skin irritations, according to the NZDS.
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