All about our skin's Natural Moisturising Factor

Our skin has an amazing ability to regulate its moisture levels based on its surrounding environment thanks to its natural moisturizing factor (NMF) which enables the skin to draw moisture from the air into its cells. However, there are a many factors which affect how much NMF our skin produces, and this can affect our skin’s ability to retain moisture.

How Does Natural Moisturising Factor Hydrate Your Skin?

Our skin’s natural moisturising factor is made up of amino acids and humectants that are by products of a structural protein called filaggrin. Our skin is able to take those by products and recycle them in order to create NMF. Our skin then uses that NMF, which is contained within the stratum corneum, or the outermost layer of the epidermis, to regulate its moisture content.

The natural moisturizing factor also helps protect the skin, helping to create a barrier so that harmful microorganisms don’t get it.

How Much NMF Does Your Skin Make?

Our body regulates how much NMF it makes. In low-humidity environments, our skin will naturally produce more NMF than someone who lives in a high-humidity environment. If we travel from a high-humidity environment to a dry environment it takes our skin a few days to adjust the amount of NMF it makes to rehydrate our skin.

Other factors can affect the amount of NMF our skin makes. People with atopic dermatitis, or eczema, produce a reduced amount of NMF. This may be due to a mutation in the filaggrin gene or a defect in this protein’s structural role leading to reduced NMF production.

NMF also decreases with age, which is one reason why ageing skin is more prone to dryness and lack of radiance. Exposure to UV light can also cause a decrease in NMF production.

How to help restore the NMF

Ingredients which are known to mimic the skin’s NMF such as fatty acids, ceramides, trehalose and hyaluronic acid can help the skin retain moisture and protect it from environmental pollution.

Hyaluronic acid is a well known and popular humectant, which can absorb and retain moisture, much like our skin’s natural NMF. However, it’s not enough on its own and should be used in combination with other moisturising ingredients which act as a physical seal to prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL).

Trehalose mimics the skin’s Natural Moisturising Factor (NMF). When applied to the skin, Trehalose allows it to retain moisture, protecting against dryness and helping to reduce the visible signs of ageing.

Ceramides occur naturally in the epidermis as part of the skin’s natural barrier which protects the skin from water loss. They act similar to mortar between bricks, helping to seal in moisture. When people experience dry skin, it is often because of a loss of ceramides in the skin, which can also cause itching, flaking, peeling, and scaling. In skincare products ceramides may help replace lipids that have been lost due to chronic dryness, environmental factors, ageing, and skin damage caused by certain skin conditions, helping to restore moisture levels, improve resilience and prevent flakiness.