What Is Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF)?
Your skin has the amazing ability to regulate how much it moisturizes itself, based on the environment in which you live. It does this by using what is called natural moisturizing factor (NMF) to pull moisture content from the air into its cells. However, there are a variety of factors that contribute to how much NMF your skin produces, and this can affect your skin’s ability to retain moisture. This guide explains more about how natural moisturizing factor works and what you can do to increase your skin’s hydration.
How Does Natural Moisturizing Factor Hydrate Your Skin?
Natural moisturizing factor is made up of amino acids and humectants that are byproducts of a structural protein called filaggrin. Your skin is able to take those byproducts and recycle them in order to create NMF. Your skin then uses that NMF – which is located within cells in the stratum corneum, or the outermost layer of the epidermis – to regulate its moisture content. Thus, the role of NMF is to draw in water from the air to the skin, keeping it hydrated.
Natural moisturizing factor also plays a defensive role, helping to create a barrier so that harmful microorganisms cannot penetrate your skin.
How Much NMF Does Your Skin Make?
Interestingly, your body can regulate how much NMF it makes. If you live in a low-humidity environment, your skin will naturally produce more NMF than someone who lives in a high-humidity environment. When you travel from a high-humidity environment like Florida to a dry environment like Colorado, your skin will need about three days to adjust the amount of NMF it makes to rehydrate your skin. So you will probably feel dry and itchy for this amount of time as your skin adjusts.
Other factors can affect the amount of NMF your skin makes as well. People with atopic dermatitis, or eczema, produce a reduced amount of NMF. While we are still learning more about the root causes of eczema, there is believed to be a genetic component, which could affect this reduced NMF production. A mutation in the filaggrin gene has been found in atopic dermatitis patients, contributing to eczema symptoms because of both reduced NMF production and a defect in this protein’s structural role in the lower levels of the epidermis.
NMF also decreases with age, which is one reason why dry, dull skin is often a skin aging concern. Exposure to UV light, prolonged water immersions, and surfactant ingredients can also cause a decrease in NMF production.
Unfortunately, there is currently no known way to stimulate your skin to produce more NMF. Because NMF is located inside your skin cells, using topical products is not effective.
What’s the Best Moisturizer to Heal Dry Skin?
So what can you do for your skin if it feels dry and itchy – whether you’re traveling or are struggling with eczema or mature, dehydrated skin? The best approach is to use a barrier repair moisturizer such as Zerafite. Barrier repair moisturizers mimic your skin’s natural 1:1:1 ratio of cholesterol, fatty acids, and ceramides to help it hold onto moisture and keep irritants sealed out.
Hyaluronic acid is a popular skincare ingredient right now, but use caution when applying it to your skin. Hyaluronic acid is a type of humectant, which absorb and retain moisture, much like your skin’s natural NMF. However, if used on its own in a dry environment, hyaluronic acid and other humectants can actually make dry skin worse by drawing moisture from your skin instead of the air. For this reason, humectants should be combined with occlusives – which act as a physical seal to prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
Your skin has the very interesting ability to take components left over from the production of a structural protein and manufacture its own natural moisturizing factor to keep itself hydrated. Unfortunately, scientists haven’t found a way to trigger your skin to make more NMF just yet. Hopefully we will find a way to do this in the future!
In the meantime, use your knowledge about your Baumann Skin Type® and NMF to choose an appropriate moisturizer to help your skin stay hydrated and healthy.
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Wishing you great skin!
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