The It Ingredient: Electrolytes

These essential minerals may be the new answer to chronic dry skin – think of it as the sports drink to rehydrate your skin. Here’s what it can and can’t do.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

"Cosmetics containing electrolytes are supposed to improve moisture retention in skin, and may help to restore plumpness and glow to dehydrated skin. They can be found in both makeup and skincare."

If you’ve had a long and hard workout, or are down with diarrhoea, and have lost a lot of fluids, consuming a sports drink should help you rehydrate. The key lies in the electrolytes contained in the drink, which top up what your body has lost.

There are a couple of things to know about electrolytes. One: they’re electrically charged minerals like sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium dissolved in water. And two: they are vital for many key body functions including hydration, as they regulate the movement of water in and out of cells – including skin cells.

Most times, our body can maintain a healthy balance of electrolytes through normal fluid intake, as even tap water contains trace amounts. But when an electrolyte imbalance happens, you need help.

One of the ways this shows up as is in skin that’s dry, itchy and wrinkling, says dermatologist Dr Eileen Tan of Eileen Tan Skin, Laser & Hair Transplant Clinic.

Spinning off from this, some beauty brands have come up with skincare that’s high in electrolytes.

The idea is that since electrolytes boost hydration in the body, putting them into skincare will bring about similar benefits to skin, especially for skin that’s perpetually dry and dull. Think of it as sports drinks for the skin.

The jury is still out on how well these work though. Dr Tan says the best way to top up electrolytes, even just for skin hydration, is still to ingest it.

“There is no medical literature that shows an electrolyteinfused cream can effectively deliver electrolytes through skin absorption,” says Dr Tan.

However, she sees no harm in using electrolyte skincare as you would other moisturising products. “These electrolytecontaining creams are likely to also have humectant ingredients such as ceramides, hyaluronic acid and glycerine, which help to moisturise skin and strengthen its barrier function. This will reduce skin dryness and its associated symptoms such as itch,” she explains.

1. Drunk Elephant F-Balm Electrolyte Waterfacial, $74

The overnight mask bumps up electrolyte levels, while moisturising skin with ceramides, plant squalane and essential fatty acids.

2. Marc Jacobs Beauty Under(cover) Perfecting Coconut Face Primer, $69

Electrolyte-rich coconut water and coconut extracts smooth and hydrate.

3. Estee Lauder Set + Refresh Perfecting Makeup Mist, $55

Spritz on before or after makeup to help it set, or for a radiance boost any time.

4. First Aid Beauty Hello Fab Coconut Skin Smoothie Priming Moisturizer, $48

Coconut juice and extracts of apricot, vanilla and coffee seed, in the oil-free moisturiser brighten skin and refine pores.