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You are here: Best Practices >

Moisturizing: Overhyped, Undervalued, or Misunderstood?

Moisturizing is a common topic of skin care publications. Moisturizers are the traditional staple of skin care product lines. Some experts view moisturizing as a centerpiece of anti-aging skin care, while others dismiss it as a dubious routine of negligible value. So who's right?

First, why does it matter how much moisture the skin has? Any biological system, including the skin, survives by carrying out a multitude of biochemical reactions. In essence, biochemical reactions are chemical "transactions" involving biologically important molecules. The vast majority of biochemical reactions proceed normally only if the reagents are properly dissolved in water or, in some cases, oil. Lack of water in or around cells disrupts normal metabolism and tissue repair. Therefore, dehydrated skin has a decreased capacity for repair and regeneration. By itself, dry skin is not the major cause of wrinkles and other signs of skin aging. However, since dry skin has a decreased capacity to heal, it is far more susceptible to various forms of skin damage such as sun exposure or harsh detergents. Furthermore, dry skin is also more prone to skin infections and irritants because it has many tiny cracks allowing the offenders to sneak in.

In other words, it makes a good sense to have a well-moisturized skin. Even though moisturizing won't lift your eyelids or reverse wrinkles (except maybe recent fine lines), it will help slow down any further damage, and allow other treatments to work better. In fact, if your skin is excessively dry, most skin care treatments have far less chance to produce desired results.

Things that make skin excessively dry

Before discussing what to do to moisturize effectively, we should first discuss what NOT TO DO if one is to avoid excess dryness.

  • Don't wash your face with regular soap or general purpose detergents. Soaps strip your skin of the so-called "acid mantle", an oil-rich protective film that locks moisture inside the skin and prevents bacterial and other infections. Skin without the acid mantle dries up very quickly. Even plain water can make your skin excessively dry if you wash it too often. Generally, skin washing or cleansing should be limited to once or twice a day. It is best to use special moisturizing soaps or wash with plain water and moisturize right after washing.
  • Unless you have a very oily skin, do not use alcohol-based astringents, wipes and colognes (except when needed to treat skin lesions, such as cuts and abrasions). Just as harsh detergents, alcohol removes the skin's acid mantle, leaving the skin very dry and prone to irritation.
  • Do not expose your skin to excess sun and wind

Who needs moisturizing the most?

Moisturizing is particularly important when relative humidity is low because the latter promotes faster evaporation of moisture from the skin. In particular, dry weather and indoor heating season call for extra attention to moisturizing.

Also, not all people are created equal in terms of the need to moisturize. For example, people with oily skin may need little or no moisturizing. (In fact, people with oily skin tend to develop fewer wrinkles as they age.) On the other hand, people with dry skin or even normal-to-dry skin need to moisturize. Skin dryness tends to increase with age. Most people over forty have some degree of skin dryness and need to moisturize. Skin dryness tends to be particularly severe in women near, during or after menopause - apparently due to low level of estrogens.

What are the best ways to keep your skin properly moisturized?

For best results, skin should be moisturized both from the inside and outside.

Moisturizing from the inside means keeping the body well hydrated. When dehydrated, the body preserves the water supply to critical organs, such as the brain and the heart, but "cuts off water" to peripheral organs such as skin. Therefore, keeping the body well hydrated is an important part of keeping your skin well moisturized. Adequate fluid intake is key. However, just as important is to avoid foods and beverages that cause excess water loss. (Yes, beverages too. Ironically, some drinks can actually cause you to lose more water than you take in.)

Moisturizing from the outside is based on proper use of moisturizing creams and lotions. Unfortunately, most moisturizing products are ineffective because their moisturizing action lasts less than two hours after the application. If you, like most people, moisturize from one to three times a day, then most of the time your skin will still be dry. Of course, you can moisturize every hour or two, but most people find such a regimen unsustainable. Besides, excessive application of creams and lotions can clog pores and promote acne. We recommend using long-lasting moisturizers, which will keep your skin hydrated throughout the day even if applied infrequently. The good news is that even though long-lasting moisturizers are a lot more effective, they usually do not cost more.

Practical steps and techniques for optimal moisturizing are detailed in the Skin Rejuvenation Infopack in the section "The Ten Commandments of Intelligent Moisturizing."


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