Moisturizers. Finding the right one is tricky business.
The wrong one doesn't moisturize well enough and your skin feels itchy and dry. Others make you look oily - or worse cause a breakout. In all honesty, finding the perfect moisturizer takes time and dedication. You have to be willing to try new products until your skin feels and looks great!
So How Do Moisturizers Work?
Moisturizers act as a temporary barrier or occlusive. They help protect your skin from the environment. Applying a moisturizer will keep the water and oils in your skin from escaping. It also keeps harmful elements (pollution, changes in humidity, harsh cleansers, and UV rays) from causing skin dryness and irritation. Katherine Farady, a Dermatologist in Austin, Texas, says:
"The outer layer of skin usually contains 20-35% water. The 'skin barrier,' also known as the stratum corneum, is comprised of a dead flattened layer of cells called corneocytes, forming the 'bricks,' and the intervening layer of lipids, forming 'the mortar.' This bricks and mortar structure prevents water loss through the skin."
When your skin's barrier is disrupted by trauma or a disease like psoriasis, eczema or severe dryness, skin repair systems fall behind. Poor function combined with poor hydration causes the skin to become rough, flaky, dull, and lose elasticity. The result is cracks and painful fissures.
Moisturizers get more important as we age.
As I mentioned earlier, moisturizers hold water in the outermost layer of skin. As we age, skin loses its moisture and appears to have aged. Moisturizers reduce this process dramatically. They make the skin smoother, and temporarily reduce fine lines. But do they prevent wrinkles?
Here's what Dr. Brandith Irwin of SkinTour.com has to say:
"Does moisturizing really help prevent wrinkles? This is an interesting question because no university to my knowledge has studied this in a long term study. We really don’t have proof one way or the other.
But……….here’s how I think the question should be answered. If we look around us at people who have naturally oily skin, especially if they use sunscreen regularly, they have very few wrinkles. If we look around us at people who have naturally dry skin and who have had dry skin from their teens even, they tend to be very wrinkled. Especially if they don’t use sunscreen."
In your 30s, skin loses its ability to retain water as it once did. The skin's ability to heal itself slows down and it produces less collagen and elastin. Fine lines start to develop, skin tone turns dull and begins to get a rough texture. Increased skin sensitivity and conditions like rosacea are more common.
When you are in your 40's, aging becomes more apparent. Wrinkles and deep-set lines caused by sun exposure, pollution and stress are evident. Skin loses some of its elasticity and becomes dry, chapped, and discolored.
As you enter your 50's, skin shows clear signs of aging, such as wrinkles, fine lines, age spots and more.
Many moisturizers contain some combination of humectants, emollients and other ingredients.
Research in skin physiology has shown that there are 3 main lipids / fats in the skin barrier: ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. “Physiologic” moisturizers are coming out that contain these ingredients and do more than just provide an occlusive water barrier - they actually help the skin rebuild its lipid barrier.
1. The Moisture Absorbers: Humectants
Humectants draw water to the skin cells to keep skin hydrated. Humectants are a good first layer of moisture and are suitable for all skin types including oily, combination and acne prone skin because they don't have any of the heavier oils. Glycerine is frequently used because it works so well and is inexpensive, but it can feel tacky on the skin.
Key ingredients: Glycerin, lactic acid, urea, hyaluronic acid, alphahydroxy acid (AHAs), and pyrrolidone carboxylic acid (PCA)
Works best for: Dry, thick skin in climates that are very humid.
2. The Space Fillers: Emollients
Emollients fill in gaps between the skin cells that are missing moisturizing lipids. Emollients are usually oil-based, although they can be water-based. As the emollient fills the space, the skin becomes smoother and better hydrated. They provide some occlusivity and improve the appearance of the skin by smoothing flaky skin cells. Emollient lipids similar to those found naturally in the skin may increase the rate of skin's barrier repair.
Key ingredients: Lanolin, mineral oil and petrolatum
Works best for: Extremely dry, dehydrated mature skin that needs a lot of moisture
3. The Skin Glue: Ceramides
Ceramides replace the skin's lost ceramides enabling it to better retain moisture. Ceramides are naturally found in the skin. Depleted ceramide levels show up as dry, damaged skin.
Key ingredients: Ceramides
Works best for: Normal and combination skin types with minimal dryness and those with eczema
4. The Moisture Sealers: Occlusives
Occlusives seal the skin to keep the moisture in. Occlusive agents increase moisture levels by providing a physical barrier to water loss from the skin. They are heavy and are usually recommended more for the body and less for the face.
Key ingredients: Rose hip, avocado and hazelnut oils; petrolatum, waxes, oils and silicones.
Works best for: More mature, dehydrated skin in an environment with little/no humidity. Ingredients like mineral oil, paraffin, and petrolatum temporarily soften skin. Unfortunately, they also prevent skin from breathing and block pores. If your skin is reactive or blemish prone it’s best to stay away from occlusive moisturizers. Petrolatum can feel heavy so it is often combined with other ingredients like emollients to make it more appealing.
*Because each of these ingredients has a different action, most moisturizers will use a combination of ingredients to get a better effect and limit any aesthetic or financial drawbacks. Investigate each product's claims and consider how they make your skin feel. You may need to try several moisturizers - or even layer moisturizers - before finding the solution that benefits your skin the most.
Moisturizers are essential in our dry Colorado air.
To pick the best moisturizer, you need to know your skin type.
Your skin type determines what type of moisturizer will benefit your skin most. Skin types can vary over time. Things that affect your skin type include the environment, age, hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause, genetics, ethnicity, and disease.
In general, skin types fall into one of the following 6 categories:
1. Oily Skin
People with oily skin often have large pores and get an oily shine quickly after cleansing. Many of them avoid moisturizers because they get acne. But even oily skin needs moisture - especially when using products that remove oils and dry out your skin.
Look for a moisturizer that is oil free and labeled noncomedogenic (which means it won't clog pores) to give your skin the moisture it needs without the extra shine. Avoid moisturizers that contain ingredients that can cause acne like lanolin, mineral oil, wax or shea butter.
2. Dry Skin
Moisturizing is essential for people with dry skin which is often itchy, red, flaky and feels tight.
If your skin is cracked, try a heavy oil-based moisturizer and ingredients that keep skin hydrated like hyaluronic acid and dimethicone. They stay on your skin longer than creams do and are more effective in preventing water evaporation from your skin.
For very dry skin, use a heavy, oil-based moisturizer that includes ingredients like lanolin, mineral oil and petrolatum that lock in moisture.
When first starting a moisturizing routine, you may need to reapply your moisturizer several times a day to keep your skin moist.
People with dry skin should avoid moisturizers that contain acids and alcohol. Ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids, glycolic acid, retinoic acid, and salicylic acid are not suitable for this skin type either. And if your skin is cracked, avoid moisturizers that contain urea or lactic acids which can make your skin irritation worse.
3. Combination Skin
Combination Skin is characterized by an oily T-zone (forehead, nose and chin) with drier skin on the cheeks. The best solution for combination skin is a heavy cream on cheeks and a lighter, oil-free formula on the forehead, nose and chin.
4. Normal Skin
Normal Skin has an even tone with no flaking or sheen. It is neither too dry nor too oily. Use a water-based moisturizer that has a light, non-greasy feel. These moisturizers often contain lightweight oils or silicone-derived ingredients like cyclomethicone.
5. Sensitive Skin
Sensitive Skin is susceptible to skin irritation, redness, itching or rashes. Look for moisturizers that are gentle, oil free, paraben free, fragrance free and hypoallergenic. Typically, these moisturizers don't have fragrance, dyes, or acids which can irritate the skin.
Make sure that your moisturizer includes SPF to protect from UV damage which thins the dermis, triggers free radicals and increases the likelihood of allergy attacks for sensitive skin.
Also look for formulations with less than 10 ingredients. Fewer ingredients means a lower chance of harmful interactions with delicate skin.
Ingredients like chamomile and aloe can help to soothe sensitive skin. People with sensitive skin should also avoid moisturizers that contain acids and alcohol, such as alpha-hydroxy acids, glycolic acid, retinoic acid, and salicylic acid. They aren't suitable for this skin type.
6. Mature Skin
Mature skin is drier. As we age, oil-producing glands become less active. To keep skin soft and well hydrated, choose an oil-based moisturizer that contains petrolatum as the base, along with antioxidants or alpha hydroxy acids to combat wrinkles. These ingredients help hold in moisture and prevent flaky, scaly skin.
Choosing Cream, Lotion or Ointment:
No matter what your skin type, you should use a moisturizer every day. It's best to start with light lotions and work your way up to thicker creams. Creams can cause breakouts in people who don't need them, so move up to a heavier cream slowly.
- Lotions are the lightest (because the water content is higher) and are considered ideal for oily skin.
- Creams that are thinner, help hydrate, and are good for normal skin.
- Itchy or dry skin, may need a thick ointment to lock moisture into the skin.
- Another option is to try a light moisturizer during the day, and a heavy one at night.
The season and type of weather will affect your choice. For example, you may want to use a light moisturizer with SPF in the summer months and a thick moisturizer in the winter when the heat is on and the air is dry. People with oily skin may get enough moisture from their sunscreen alone during summers with high humidity.
You might try choosing the thickness of your moisturizer based on when and where you intend to use it. Heavy creams are not recommended for the face unless your skin is extremely dry - but they are recommended for your legs, hands and feet because those areas tend to be dry.
**The right moisturizer leaves your skin feeling hydrated, smooth, and soft. It protects your skin from the environment and pollution.
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Lipids are natural compounds found in skin. There are many kinds of lipids, but ceramides, natural cholesterol, and fatty acids are the most common types. As we age, lipid production declines, impacting your skin's barrier function and ability to repair itself. As a consequence, signs of aging (skin roughness, uncomfortable tightness, dullness, & loss of facial fullness) appear more quickly. Triple Lipid Restore does all of the following:
- Restores essential skin lipids: ceramides, natural cholesterol, and fatty acids
- Improves the look of skin fullness, texture, and pore appearance
- Improves the appearance of skin evenness
- Provides improved hydration in 24 hours and is ideal for dry, sensitive skin
- Has a lightweight and fast-absorbing texture
9 Ways to Make the Most of Your Moisturizing Routine:
- Be willing to experiment. Find a moisturizer that fits your skin type and makes your skin look and feel soft. You may need to try several brands with varying ingredients before you find one you like.
- Protect yourself from the sun. Try a moisturizer that contains sunscreen. They do double duty by hydrating skin and protecting it from sun damage. Dermatologists recommend getting a moisturizer with a sunscreen of at least SPF 30.
- Don't necessarily buy the most expensive brand. The most expensive moisturizer is not always more effective than a cheaper product.
- Apply moisturizers immediately after bathing. The best time for moisturizer application is when your skin is damp. Pat skin dry, then apply moisturizer immediately afterward to help trap water in the surface cells of the skin.
- Apply moisturizer to your hands and body as needed. Apply after bathing or showering, before outdoor exercise, in cold weather, and every time you wash your hands. Our hands get more exposure to irritants than any other part of the body.
- Try moisturizers that contain antioxidants such as green tea, chamomile, pomegranate, or licorice root extract. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals - the molecules that break down skin cells. They keep skin looking and feeling healthy.
- Drink plenty of water, particularly in the heat. Moisturize from the inside out. Dehydration will show on your skin.
- Remember, not all moisturizers live up to their advertised claims or even contain all advertised ingredients. The FDA does not regulate cosmetics - including moisturizers - as strictly as it does medicines.
- ALWAYS start new products one at a time, about a week apart, to make sure you don't get a reaction. And check out this post, 8 Ingredients in Lip Balms and Cosmetics That Cause Allergies.
Thanks for reading & good luck!
Amy Takken, RN
Amy Takken is a registered nurse with 20+ years of experience helping people improve their health. Her in-depth skincare articles have been featured on Nazarian Plastic Surgery and The Palm Beach Center for Facial Plastic & Laser Surgery. She's also been quoted on Dermascope.com.
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The Information provided on our website is not medical advice and should not be viewed as such. By law, only a medical doctor can diagnose or give medical advice. As a registered nurse, my goal is to educate, so I provide information on skin care, skin care products, and skin care treatments. If you have any condition that concerns you, please see a medical doctor. While most skin conditions are benign, some - like melanoma - can be deadly. If there is any doubt, please, please consult your physician. Thank you!
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