The outermost layer of our skin is known as the stratum corneum. The stratum corneum acts as a protective barrier that defends the skin against any potential injuries and pathogens. The stratum corneum contains natural moisturizing factors that help to regulate the moisture in our skin. Urea is a naturally occurring moisturising factor found in our skin. Healthy skin is characterized by the maintenance of adequate hydration. A variety of creams and lotions on the market contain moisturising factors to help rehydrate the stratum corneum in order allow the skin to be healthy, soft and well moisturized.
Loss of natural moisturizing factors leads to a reduction of moisture in the stratum corneum that causes the skin to become dry, rough and scaly to the touch. Dry skin loses its flexibility and is prone to developing cracks and fissures. Cracks in the skin provide a portal of entry for bacteria, fungus or viruses to enter and cause infection and wounds. Sufficient hydration of the stratum corneum is important for maintaining skin integrity and defense against potential infection.
Benefits of Urea
Hydration: Urea is a humectant due to its ability to retain moisture by binding to water. When urea is applied to the skin, it is able to penetrate into the stratum corneum to further enhance water absorption. Hence, urea improves the ability of the skin to retain water, while simultaneously balancing adequate hydration.
Exfoliation: Removal of dead skin cells in the stratum corneum will improve the water binding ability of the skin. At high concentrations, urea is a keratolytic and helps to loosen scaly, dead skin allowing for exfoliation and improve cellular turnover.
Protection: By retaining moisture and enhancing the skin’s renewal process, urea helps to ultimately strengthen the stratum corneum barrier function to fight against trauma and containments. Routine use of a moisturizer to the skin is necessary to prevent the development of dry skin.
Penetration: The benefits of urea to strengthen the skin’s barrier has allowed it to be used in a variety of urea-containing creams and lotions for skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis and cracked heels. Urea enhances skin penetration of topical medication such as corticosteroids and antifungals in order to treat scaling and inflammation of the skin.
Urea and Foot Care
With daily physical activity, the heels and soles of the feet are prone to dryness and cracks. Unattended deeps cracks in the feet can become infected and develop into wounds. Applying an urea-containing cream or lotion to the feet regularly can help the skin to stay hydrated and prevent against complications. In particular, people with Diabetes need to maintain adequate skin hydration to reduce the risk of skin breakdown and infection. In addition, regular use of a urea-containing moisturizers can help to reduce callus buildup and provide relief from dry, itchy skin. At high concentrations, urea can be used to remove damaged and thickened toenails. Overall, urea provides many benefits in help the feet stay healthy and hydrated.
Friedman, A., von Grote, E., & Meckfessel, M. (2016). Urea: A clinically oriented overview from bench to bedside. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 15, 633-639.