Urea (or carbamide) is an organic crystalline compound with the chemical formula CO(NH₂)₂. It plays an important role in metabolism and is the main nitrogenous byproduct created when the body utilises protein. Synthetic urea is used as a skincare ingredient and its beneficial properties for treating dry skin, dermatosis, and keratosis pilaris are well documented. This superhero ingredient is a moisturising humectant that also has keratolytic properties.
Urea dissolves keratin to expedite the shedding of dead skin cells. Urea aids in the production of filaggrin, a protein that’s essential for maintaining balanced skin. Urea helps reinforce the lipid barrier and penetrates the stratum corneum to help skin retain water.
In Treatment of Dry Skin Syndrome: The Art and Science of Moisturizers, contributing authors Alessandra Marini and Jean Krutmann state that “urea is much more than just a moisturizer, but is in fact a highly active substance. It appears that urea has specific gene regulatory activities which affect mRNA expression of certain genes involved in differentiation of keratinocytes and can be used to enhance barrier function and innate immunity of human skin. These gene regulatory activities are mediated by specific urea transporters.’
Urea is compatible with all skin types, including sensitive and allergy-prone skin. Urea is used to treat a wide range of skin conditions, including eczema, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, keratosis, and pruritus.
Urea is safe to use in combination with other products. As it is effective in penetrating thicker skin, it helps to soften and prepare skin for other key actives.