Spotlight on Urea in Skin Care

Even though our ViaBuff Exfoliating Buffs were designed to give you the most thorough exfoliation possible, they work best when paired with a powerful exfoliating serum. One of our favorite, albeit under-publicized, ingredients is urea, which has shown benefits for exfoliation and strengthening skin barrier functioning. Curious to know more? Check out our spotlight on one of dermatology’s best ingredients that definitely deserves a place in your skincare routine.

Urea Strengthens the Skin Barrier

A study from the Journal of Investigative Dermatology investigated the effects on a 10% and 20% urea solution on healthy human skin. After four weeks of once-daily application, the 20% urea treatment reduced transepidermal water loss (TEWL) by 31% and generally improved skin barrier functioning. At the conclusion of the study, biopsies revealed that both the 10% and 20% treatments encouraged the expression of markers of epidermal antimicrobial defense, suggesting that urea may protect again certain cutaneous skin infections (Journal of Investigative Dermatology). Research also suggests that urea’s skin barrier strengthening properties may assist in delaying the relapse of eczema. In a study from Acta Dermato-Venereologica, a 5% urea treatment delayed reappearance of hand eczema by an average of 20 days in experimental participants, which suggests that urea may help to lower the frequency of eczema flare-ups by contributing to a more resilient skin barrier. Research published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology similarly found that those using a urea-containing moisturizer tended to have gaps of 180 days or more between their eczema relapses, whereas 32% of those using the urea moisturizer did not suffer from eczema for the duration for the study (a 26-week period).

Urea Can Exhibit Keratolytic Activity

keratolytic agents

Research has not illuminated the mechanisms behind urea’s keratolytic properties, although it is believed that urea may break down hydrogen bonds in the skin, and disperse and denature(break down) keratin in the skin(Acta Dermato-Venereologica, Dermatologica, Dermatology Online Journal). There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that urea is a strong keratolytic agent, especially when combined with salicylic acid (Dermatology Online Journal). For example, when combined with salicylic acid, a 40% urea treatment was found to exhibit keratolytic activity in experimental participants (Pharmazie). Urea not only limits cellular buildup by breaking down keratin, but can also limit epidermal hyperproliferation (cell overproduction). For example, in a study of those with psoriatic lesions, a 10% urea treatment decreased epidermal proliferation by 51% and reduced epidermal thickness by 29% over a two-week period (Acta Dermato-Venereologica). While this study only examined those with psoriatic lesions, it would not be unreasonable to believe that these anti-proliferative effects would similarly work on those with eczema, other forms of skin plaques, or who simply tend to have a rapid buildup of dead skin cells.

Urea Can Hydrate Parched Skin


Urea’s hydrating abilities have been well-profiled within the clinical literature. For example, after 14 days of application, a 40% urea treatment significantly improved skin dryness, thickness, and roughness and reduced the number of fissures in those with moderate to severe xerosis (dry skin) (American Journal of Clinical Dermatology). When combined with arginine and carnosine, a urea-containing topical treatment significantly improved skin hydration and encouraged desquamation in severely xerotic feet after an 8 month period in those with Type 2 diabetes (Current Medical Research and Opinion). Similarly, a 5% salicylic acid and 10% urea topical treatment significantly improved foot xerosis over a four-week period, according to research published in the Journal of the American Podiatric Assocation.

Bottom Line


A good exfoliating routine should combine one of our ViaBuff Exfoliating Buffs with a potent exfoliating serum. Although it isn’t a very well-known ingredient, urea can greatly benefit your skin. Urea is believed to possess potent keratolytic properties, especially when used in combination with salicylic acid. If you suffer from psoriatic plaques or a buildup of dead skin cells, then urea will likely be able to partially alleviate your condition. There is also growing evidence to suggest the topically-applied urea can improve skin barrier functioning, which can provide better defense against infections and flare-ups of certain dermatological conditions.

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