There is a significant different between emollient or softening cream and moisturizing cream. The first one does provide a therapeutic action (explained below) because of its lipid content, the second one it’s just an emulsion rich in water that does not produce any benefits to the skin.
The stratum corneum – The “leading actor” for the skin integrity
The stratum corneum is the outermost layer of the skin that plays an important role for dry skin, let’s see how:
In the presence of an optimal content of water or a balanced hydration, the stratum corneum looks and feel soft, flexible and smooth. The water content is regulated by a complex system of lipids (fats) and proteins that are able to maintain a constant water level in the skin layers, regardless of external humidity and temperature.
When the water content is optimal a natural and healthy desquamation (scaling) of the skin occurs, whereas when the stratum corneum is dry, desquamation is dangerously increased.
Dry skin and emollient cream
An important misconception is that when the skin is dry is because the water level is low and needs to be replenished (moisturizing cream). The truth is that the water content is low indeed but does not need to be replenished from outside (we have water in our body!) but instead needs to be retained better in the stratum corneum.
When the balance of lipids and proteins is altered, or they get stripped form the skin the water starts to evaporate and gets dispersed. Washing too frequently with harsh soaps, for instance is the most common way to strip the lipids and proteins from our skin, hence we feel dry right after we dry out.
The remedy to replenish the skin of the protective fats is to apply Emollient cream to help retaining in the outermost layer of the skin the water that gets transferred from the deeper layers.
Good quality emollient creams will contain plant based oils and butters such as Parkii butter, avocado and olive oil.