What are the benefits of urea-based emollients and why is it so good for my skin?

Is your skin crying out for help? Have you been using a moisturiser on your skin and finding that it is not effective? Do you have cracked heels and no amount of sorbolene is improving their appearance?

The answer may be in the use of urea-based emollients! 

To understand how a skin treatment affects the skin, it is also important to have a brief  understanding of how our skin functions. 

Our skin is made of microscopic cells which grow from under the surface of our skin, and mature as they make their way to the skin’s surface, where they ultimately mature and flake off. This cycle typically takes five to six weeks, and as we age, this cycle continues however at a gradually longer rate. In the structure of the skin there are five layers of the epidermis that protect our body, with an additional layer on the sole of our hands and feet. This additional layer is known as the ‘stratum corneum’ and it is a thicker layer of skin to help us walk over rough surfaces without too much as a second thought.

Sourced: https://lesliebaumannmd.com/the-5-layers-of-your-skin/

Research indicates that standard moisturisers do not work as effectively to moisturise the skin – especially the skin on the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet – in comparison with urea-based emollients. 

So what is all the hype around urea-based emollients?

Urea is a moisturiser which is commonly used to improve skin integrity.

Five benefits of urea-based emollients include:

1. Increases moisture to stratum corneum – the thicker layer of skin present on our hands and feet. Urea increases the water retention of the stratum corneum which assists to keep the skin hydrated and plump.


2. Regulates the duration of time between when our skin replenishes itself as part of the skin’s natural turn-over cycle. When urea is applied to the skin, it encourages important genes to grow each layer of the skin – especially the stratum corneum – into their healthiest form.


3. Enhances the function of the skin, which acts as a barrier against bacteria and other microorganisms. Regulation to the barrier function of the skin occurs through the combination and balance of pH, water and urea in the stratum corneum, which generates mature skin cells as per the skin’s natural cycle. 


4.Reduces occurrence of callous via its ‘keratolytic’ action. Urea-based emollients with a higher concentration of urea can reduce thick skin at a cellular level to skin cells.


5.Facilitates in transporting topical antifungal treatments through the skin and nails. This is achieved through the combination of improving moisture retention and keratolytic action.  


When should I apply a urea-based emollient to my skin?

Commence applying a urea-based emollient soon after your next podiatry appointment, especially after having callus removed. With routine use, the skin on your feet will thank you for it!

There are a variety of urea-based emollients available and so it can be difficult to know which one will provide you with the best result in reducing your dry skin and cracked heels. Ask your podiatrist about what concentration would work best for the skin on your feet!

Piquero-Casals J, Morgado-Carrasco D, Granger C, Trullàs C, Jesús-Silva A, Krutmann J. Urea in Dermatology: A Review of its Emollient, Moisturizing, Keratolytic, Skin Barrier Enhancing and Antimicrobial Properties. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2021 Dec;11(6):1905-1915. doi: 10.1007/s13555-021-00611-y. Epub 2021 Oct 1. PMID: 34596890; PMCID: PMC8611129.