The Hydrating Skincare Ingredients Your Dry Skin Is Begging For
My fascination with natural skincare ingredients knows no bounds. Of course, this is just my personal opinion, but I feel like the power that’s inherently present in every single microscopic plant cell is so much cooler than anything a human could create in a lab. Take, for example, desert plants — aka, the hydrating skincare ingredients your dry skin is begging for. Plants like aloe vera, cactus, and prickly pear were made to thrive in dry climates and thus, to hoard hydration. When applied to the skin, those same water-binding properties are passed onto you. I mean, that’s mind-blowing stuff, right?
“I am similarly fascinated by each of these ingredients,” Dr. Devika Icecreamwala, a board certified dermatologist based in San Francisco, tells The Zoe Report. She says the nature of the aforementioned plants — along with other desert-dwellers like Kalahari melon, African resurrection plant, and yucca extract — potentially makes them more likely to provide dehydrated skin with much-needed moisture. So if your face is feeling a little parched, a skincare product infused with desert flora might be just want the dermatologist ordered.
“Desert plants have adapted to cope in harsh conditions, including extreme pressure, heat, cold, dryness, and radiation,” Julia Noik, the founder of African Botanics, a skincare brand that relies on ingredients from the deserts of Africa, tells TZR. As such, they contain enzymes that allow them to survive in extreme climates, as well as high levels of antioxidants to protect from sun damage and free radicals. “The levels of antioxidants found in these plants have exceeded the traditional activity found in standard plants grown in milder climates,” Noik says. “This is what makes desert plant extracts so unique and effective in our skincare formulations.”
Dr. Icecreamwala is particularly drawn to products featuring aloe vera and cactus extract for dry or irritated skin. “I love aloe vera — it is very soothing and works really well when your skin is irritated or inflamed,” she says. “I recommend patients use it after they get a sunburn.” While the ingredient is definitely most well-known for its ability to calm sun-damaged skin, it has so much more to offer. With a high concentration of water and a dose of mucopolysaccharides, aloe also binds moisture to the skin and even helps stimulate production of collagen and elastin. The effect? Less inflammation, fewer fine lines, and an overall glow.
Plants in the cacti family similarly help the skin store water. “Cactus extract is a great ingredient because it’s comprised of essential fatty acids,” the derm adds. “These help provide moisture in addition to vitamins E and K.” Those properties make cactus extracts particularly beneficial in micellar waters or face mists, like Pacifica Cactus Water Micellar Cleansing Tonic and Kiehl’s Cactus Flower and Tibetan Ginseng Hydrating Mist.
Prickly pear is one particular species of cacti that has been making skincare enthusiasts’ ears, uh, prick up with interest lately, and for good reason. One scientific study showed that prickly pear extract increases skin’s natural levels of hyaluronic acid (meaning, more moisture), decreases TEWL (that’s TransEpidermal Water Loss — meaning, again, more moisture), and even protects from UV rays. Prickly pear seed oil also features high levels of linoleic acid, making it ideal for treating acne. “Linoleic acid is a fatty acid that is [naturally] produced at lower than normal levels in the skin of patients who have acne,” Dr. Joshua Zeichner of Zeichner Dermatology in New York City tells TZR. “By using it, it can help restore an abnormal and inflamed skin barrier in acne patients.”
The same can be said of Kalahari melon seed oil, which is also high in linoleic acid and can be found in African Botanics Fleurs D’Afrique Intensive Recovery Oil. “Kalahari melons grow in harsh desert conditions, so their seeds are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, too,” Noik says. “The oil is deeply hydrating and anti-inflammatory, and is suitable for all skin types including oily and acne-prone skin.”
The star of African Botanics’ line, though, is the African resurrection plant — I could nerd out on this one all day. “The Resurrection plant, or Myrothamnus flabellifolius, is indigenous to South Africa, where it grows on rocky soil where most plants can’t survive,” Noik explains. “This plant can tolerate up to 95 percent water loss for months, even years, but revive completely after 24 to 48 hours of exposure to water.” It gets better: Resurrection plants stay alive by “switching on” specific genes during periods of drought — essentially, they secrete sugars to protect their tissue until more water comes along. “In this way, resurrection plants are not only drought-resistant, they are also highly sugar nutritious,” Noik says.
What does that mean for your skin? A couple things: One, thanks to that sugar, African resurrection plant extract has antioxidant properties to protect the skin from environmental damage. And two, it “helps protect skin fibroblasts from dehydration by replacing water and acting as a natural cellular moisturizer,” Noik says.
Although studies on the ingredients aren’t extensive, it seems these desert-plucked plants don’t have many side effects at all, per Dr. Icecreamwala. They’re generally safe for use against all skin types — especially those who are dry, dehydrated, or acne-prone. “As we continue to incorporate more of these into skincare over time, we will better understand the broader effects,” the dermatologist says.
Ahead, 21 products that pull their power from Mother Nature’s ultimate hydrators.
Shop Cactus Extract
Removes your makeup, adds serious moisture... what else could you want?
The cactus flower extract inside helps your skin lock in hydration, making it the perfect finishing touch for a glowy, dewy face.
The body wash and lotion that make up Glossier's Body Hero Duo (the brand's most underrated products, IMO) are packed with "an antioxidant-rich mix of cactus flower extract, prickly pear extract, and yucca extract for prolonged moisture," the brand says on its site. In other words: Hydration Station.
A blend of cactus extract, chamomile, and calendula makes for a soothing gel that takes down inflammation like *that.*
Thanks to a mix of lactic acid and cactus extracts, Freck's toner simultaneously buffs away dead skin cells and brings the hydration.
This cuticle serum was modeled after a face serum, and includes moisturizing cactus flower extract — so you know it's going to keep your cuticles healthy and soft.
Essences are typically used to deliver moisture to the inner layers of the skin, in order to make your serums and moisturizers that much more effective. Since HydroPeptide's version is infused with cactus flower, it's a great choice for dehydrated skin types.
Shop Prickly Pear Seed Oil
Made with prickly pear seed oil *and* vitamin C, Freck's lightweight moisturizer helps heal acne and lighten any lingering scars.
It takes almost one million seeds to make a single liter of prickly pear seed oil — so yeah, a bottle of 100 percent pure, natural, and organic oil can get pricey. But it's worth it.
Paired with acai and goji berries, prickly pear seed oil has helped make this Youth to the People product a new cult-favorite.
Prickly pear seed oil is the star of both Opuntia's Day Face Oil and Night Face Oil, to guarantee clear skin around the clock.
Get head-to-toe hydration with The Everything Oil from Carter + Jane, which features prickly pear seed oil and smells *so* good, thanks to neroli and frankincense essential oils.
Shop Kalahari Melon Seed Oil
If you're looking to keep acne in check and balance your natural sebum production, add a drop or two of this pure Kalahari melon seed oil into your usual moisturizer day and night.
Infused with antioxidant-rich Kalahari melon seed oil, African Botanics' serum is one of the most moisturizing on the market.
Shop African Resurrection Plant
Sun damage? Dryness? Dull skin? Thanks to African resurrection plant extract, this serum is the cure for all.
FYI: Resurrection plant is also known as the "rose of Jericho." Any products that boast that title, like Volition's elixir, are sure to deliver intense hydration.
Resurrection plant and prickly pear seed oil come together to make this moisturizer a literal oasis for desert-dry skin.
Shop Aloe Vera
With 50 percent aloe vera, Naturopathica's cleansing gel is a must if your face is dry or easily irritated.
Keep this in your beach bag to replenish sun-parched skin with an aloe spritz.
A dose of aloe vera keeps detoxifying pink clay from being too drying — so your pores get a deep clean, minus that whole moisture-stripping thing.