What is it? Urea is a naturally occurring nitrogen compound that is a potent moisturizer and skin-soothing ingredient. It is part of the natural moisturizing factor (NMF) of the skin.
Appearance White crystals, much like table salt.
Usage rate 2–40%
Scent None
pH 7.2
Solubility Water
Why do we use it in recipes? Urea is amazing. It brings both intense moisturization and gentle exfoliation to our products. If you have super dry skin, you need urea. Urea is the only thing that I’ve found that softens the dry skin on feet, knees, and elbows. It reduces trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) and helps the skin become more resilient. You can learn a lot more about all the wonderful things urea does for our skin here!
Do you need it? No, but if you have very dry skin I would recommend it.
Strengths It’s a fantastic non-irritating moisturizer that helps our skin cells turn over faster.
Weaknesses It is high in electrolytes so it doesn’t play well with anything electrolyte-sensitive.
Alternatives & Substitutions N-acetyl glucosamine, allantoin, and panthenol share some similarities with urea, though none are a perfect substitute. If you don’t have either of those you could try replacing urea with a humectant like sodium lactate or vegetable glycerine.
How to Work with It Include it in the water phase. I’ve found conflicting information about its heat stability; if you’re using a 5% or less it could easily be moved from the heated water phase to the cool down phase, but if you’re using enough that your cool down phase would be larger than 10% of the recipe that could destabilize your emulsion. It is most stable at pH 6.2.
Storage & Shelf Life Stored somewhere cool, dark, and dry, urea should last two years.
Tips, Tricks, and Quirks Yes, urea does occur naturally in urine and sweat, but the stuff we use in cosmetics is synthesized!
Where to Buy it  Buy it from an online DIY ingredient supplier or Amazon.

Some Recipes that Use Urea

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