Uses, benefits, risks, and more

Uses, benefits, risks, and more

Synthetic urea is a common ingredient used in skin care products to help exfoliate and moisturize the skin.

The body naturally makes urea, but scientists can also make it in a laboratory and refer to it as synthetic urea. A range of skin care and cosmetic products contain this type of urea due to its moisturizing properties.

This article discusses urea, its benefits and uses in skin care, the frequency of use, potential risks, and the best products to purchase.

The liver makes urea, also known as carbamide, which is a waste product after breaking down proteins in the body.

While urine contains urea, it is also an organic compound naturally present in healthy skin.

Urea can act as a humectant. Humectants work by drawing water into the skin to help the skin stay smooth and moisturized. It plays an important role in preserving skin hydration and health.

Urea can have the following benefits for a person’s skin:

  • breaking down the outer layer of skin to promote new cell growth
  • moisturizing skin cells
  • soothing irritation
  • increasing how deeply products penetrate the skin

Urea can also be a useful additive for products designed to counter the effects of aging. Researchers have found that urea can help improve signs of UV radiation exposure — photodamage — on the skin.

Urea concentration and the benefits

The concentration of urea varies between different products.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the concentration ranges between 3–40% and has the following benefits:

  • creams with 10% urea concentration help hydrate the skin
  • products with 20–30% urea can:
    • reduce itching
    • break down keratin
    • decrease the thickness of the outermost layer of skin
    • improve scaly skin conditions such as ichthyosis
  • products with 40% urea content are proteolytic, meaning they will break down proteins

A person may use a 40% urea product to dissolve or peel dystrophic nails, which are nails that have thickened or become discolored or deformed.

Read on about nail abnormalities.

Urea has several different uses in skin care. Manufacturers use synthetic urea in skin care products, including:

  • creams
  • gels
  • lotions
  • shampoos

A person may also be able to find hair care products, and certain types of makeup that they use may contain urea.

A 2014 article explains that urea is present in creams that treat a wide range of skin and nail conditions, including:

Uses for dry skin on feet

A 2017 systematic review explored the types of moisturizers that are most effective for treating dry skin on the feet, a condition known as xerosis. It found that urea was the most commonly included ingredient in the creams.

Although the authors note there was a lack of overall quality and could not confirm whether urea was a superior moisturizer.

However, based on the available literature, more research has explored treatments containing urea as the main ingredient.

Read more about dry skin.

Uses for nail conditions

A 2019 article examined the use of urea to improve and treat nail conditions, such as a fungal infection.

Various antifungal medications can successfully treat this condition. However, the researchers from the 2019 study concluded that using topical urea can enhance the effectiveness of oral or topical antifungal treatments due to its function as a penetration enhancer.

Learn more about nail health.

Many studies show that urea is a safe additive that most people tolerate well.

Most people who use products containing urea do not experience negative side effects. However, people should not use urea around sensitive areas such as the eyes and lips, as it may cause irritation.

Some people who use products with urea may experience:

  • stinging
  • itching
  • irritation
  • burning

However, these side effects are generally rare, mild, and temporary. Parents or caregivers should also securely keep any products that contain urea away from children.

Scientists have not fully studied the use of urea in pregnant people. Anyone who is pregnant should avoid urea, as its effects on a developing fetus remain unknown. Likewise, people who are nursing should not use products that contain urea.

If anyone is interested in learning more about how urea may support their skin health or any risks, they should speak with a dermatologist or other medical professional.

Learn more about dermatology and skin care from our dedicated hub.

Urea is a common additive in many skin products. Finding the best skin care option for each individual is a unique process that may involve some trial and error. This section includes some of the most highly ranked urea products available on the market.

Clinique’s dramatically different moisturizing lotion+

This product purports to offer unparalleled hydration that lasts for up to 8 hours. The company says this lotion adds moisture to the skin and prevents harmful irritants from penetrating the skin barrier.

Upon application, Clinique states this product enhances skin moisture by 119%. Its blend of cucumber, sunflower, and barley extracts makes this moisturizer is a suitable choice for anyone interested in holistic skin care.

Eucerin UreaRepair Plus

People may experience difficulty treating dry skin on the feet, given the thick skin that often develops in this part of the body.

The urea in this product helps penetrate those thick layers to provide moisture and comfort to this sensitive appendage. Furthermore, this product does not contain added colors or fragrances, making it a suitable option for individuals with skin allergies or sensitivities.

Ebanel’s 40% Urea Cream

This cream is another well-known product with the added benefit of salicylic acid. The company says this moisturizer is suitable for hands, feet, nails, and elbows to target callused or scaling skin. The salicylic acid helps to exfoliate and purify the skin’s surface, as the urea encourages the turnover of old skin cells.

This Ebanel product also contains aloe vera, tea tree oil, camellia, and coconut oil. These natural ingredients reduce redness and irritation and promote skin health.

Find out more about skin care routines.

Synthetic urea is an additive that manufacturers use in many skin care products. Products with urea are especially well-known for encouraging skin moisture and enhancing texture.

Other urea-containing products can also treat skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. Urea is also a common ingredient for creams and ointments that target wrinkles.

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