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What is NMF?

Posted Mar 29 2013 2:01am

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Please join us in welcoming Zoe Weisman as a contributor to The Beauty Brains. Zoe is Director of Product Development for Concept Laboratories, Inc. and can be found on LinkedIn .

Maxy asks…I’ve seen the abbreviation “NMF” used on a variety of skin care products. What does NMF really mean? Is it a scientific term or just more marketing blah blah blah?

The Beauty Brains respond:
Aside from being an acronym used by lazy folks to relinquish responsibility for their actions (NMF = Not My Fault), when it comes to skin care, NMF stands for Natural Moisturizing Factor. NMF is produced by keratinocytes, and is made up of water-soluble amino acids, organic acids, ions and sugars that play a crucial role in skin hydration.

NMF resides in your Stratum Corneum (SC), the uppermost layer of skin that acts as a semi-permeable barrier whose mission is to keep the good guys in and the bad guys out. Your SC prevents evil bacteria from entering, and persuades moisture to stay put, thus preventing Trans Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL). A healthy supply of NMF is your best defense against dryness, because it’s able to absorb moisture from the atmosphere and bind it to your skin. If you suffer from dry, flaky skin, inflammation or eczema, NMF might be your new best friend, but it needs some wooing.

You’re probably familiar with heavy hitters like Urea and Sodium PCA. In reality, there are a slew of ingredients that can help maintain healthy levels of NMF; Ingredients like lanolin, lecithin, jojoba oil, glycerin, apricot oil and squalane. Ingredients like these are touted in many anti-aging and moisturizing serums and lotions, and work by taking some of the load off of your SC to constantly maintain an ideal NMF content.

This is where it gets confusing. In the scientific world, NMF is used as a measurement of skin health. For example, low or nearly absent NMF levels are observed in atopic dermatitis, psoriatic skin and ichthyosis. On the other hand, you might come across a product like Mario Badescu Ceramide Complex with N.M.F and A.H.A. , which claims to contain Natural Moisturizing Factors. Notice the emphasis on the “S”. This is a little bit of a misnomer…Certainly this cream may help moisturize your skin, but it’s doubtful that it contains NMF. By the way, ceramides are great and all, but oftentimes, the less prestigious ingredients like mineral oil and glycerin are on the sidelines, valiantly acting as the workhorses of your daily moisturizer. Besides, there’s more to maintaining a healthy NMF level than replenishing it with similar substances.

Here are a few tips on giving your NMF and SC some love:

  • Cleanse Gently. Harsh detergents suck the lipids right out of your skin, impairing your skin barrier. Sebum may not have the best reputation, but it just happens to be comprised of squalene, glycerol esters, fatty acids, and cholesterol . Sound familiar? Allowing your skin to produce sebum can help restore NMF levels. Just be sure to seek out ingredients that kill P. Acnes if you are prone to breakouts. Too much sebum can create a breeding ground for blemishes.
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure and use an SPF daily. Nothing impairs your skin barrier more than a day at the beach. Be wise about protecting your skin against UV damage. If you’re yearning for a sun goddess glow, you’ll be disappointed when your skin gradually loses moisture over time and becomes even more sensitive to sunlight. Opt instead for a BB Cream or bronzer infused with SPF. You’ll get a touch of color along with the protection you need to maintain beautiful skin over time.
  • Sweat it out! According to a 2004 Japanese study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology , there is correlation between healthy SC, ions, and sweat. Electrolyte levels in the SC are significantly lower in the winter, when skin is dryer. Does this mean that if you exercise when your skin is dry you can restore an optimal ionic environment to conjure your ideal NMF level? Possibly. Either way, there’s nothing like a good workout to increase circulation, elevate your mood, and give you that rosy glow that makes your skin scream: I’M AMAZING.
  • For severely dehydrated skin, don’t fear occlusive ingredients. Petrolatum is not the most popular ingredient in the skin care industry, but it is extremely effective when it comes reducing TEWL. One of the best is Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream , which keeps skin dewy even during the driest winters (Trust me, I live in Chicago). Plus, it’s $12.99 for 16 oz and it lasts for months.
  • Seasons do Matter. NMF levels in your SC drop when you enter a low-humidity climate. Switch to a heavier moisturizer during the winter, on airplanes, and when you travel to dry climates.

Image credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/

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