Moisturizing if one of the most important parts of your skin care to help with the structure and function of skin barrier. Generally, moisturisers help to prevent water loss through the skin, add hydration and reduce dryness
Modern moisturizers nowadays combine several ingredients to help with different mechanisms of action.
Humectants attract and bind water e.g. urea. The skin humidity has to be more than 70% for humectants to hydrate the skin, but often humectants will draw water from deeper layers of the epidermis and dermis. So, if using humectants alone, they can increase water loss and make dryness worse. They are often therefore used with occlusive moisturizers (see below).
Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are an example of a humectant molecule. Examples include glycolic and lactic acids. These molecules increase the levels of ceramides and therefore improve the skin barrier. Urea aids with absorption of water into the stratum corneum and can also increase the penetration of other topically applied products. Again, it reduces water loss and improves itching so is useful for those people who suffer with dermatitis. Glycerin is another common humectant moisturizing ingredient found in many different products. As well as attracting and binding water, it also repairs the skin barrier. Of course, hyaluronic acid is also a common humectant and comes in a variety of molecular sizes.
But a humectant on its own is not enough to hydrate the skin. They keep the outer layers of the skin moist but can’t retain water. Therefore, they are usually combined with an emollient which not only attracts moisture but retains it and prevents water loss.
Emollients generally contain lipids such as ceramides, fatty acids and various oils such as castor or jojoba. They soften and smooth the skin and therefore decrease flaky or scaly skin. By doing this they help repair the skin barrier.
Occlusive moisturizers are particularly good at preventing evaporation of water from the skin. They essentially form a physical barrier on the skins surface. These take many different forms:
- Hydrocarbons such as mineral oil, paraffin, petrolatum and squalene
- Silicones e.g. dimethicone
- Animal fats such as lanolin
- Vegetable oils e.g. grape seed, soybean, caster, coconut
- Sterols such as cholesterol or ceramides
- Wax esters such as lanolin and beeswax
So occlusives don’t actually hydrate skin but ensure the any water within the skin doesn’t evaporate. This is why they feel heavy, greasy and aren’t generally that cosmetically pleasant, leading to potentially blocking the skins pores and causing breakouts. However, this is very individual and many people with oily skins can tolerate a degree of occlusives. It is a myth that oilier skins should not moisturise – this only leads to the skin drying out, and then more oil being produced.
So which moisturiser is the best for your skin type?
Generally, it is important to find a balance between the three different types.
For oily skin, it is probably best to have a gel and oil free moisturiser – so more humectant (water-based) and emollient ingredients. It shouldn’t have too a high degree of occlusives so that the pores are not blocked, and sebum is kept to a minimum. By having mostly humectants such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid and sodium PCA, the moisturiser should be lightweight on the skin and absorb easily. Squalene is a great emollient because it doesn’t cause spots and is really helpful to build the skin barrier which oily skins really need. Another myth is that refined petrolatum-based products cause blocked pores (things like Vaseline), this is not true in most cases.
For dry skin, however there should be more occlusives along with humectants and emollients, to try to reduce water loss. Ceramides, fatty acids from oils and butters (e.g. shea and jojoba) are great for dry skins. They keen the skin hydrated for longer. Occlusives lock the moisture in and increase the skins quality over time by helping to build the skin barrier.
Those with combination skin can be tricky and having one that you use on the dry parts and one you use on the oily parts may be the best option. But ultimately something with humectants and emollients would be a good all round moisturiser. Too high a level of occlusives may break you out. If the skin outside the T-zone is very dry, it may be useful to slug with a small degree of Vaseline or CeraVe healing ointment just in those areas.
Those with very sensitive skins often have a poor skin barrier and don’t tolerate any fragrances, alcohols or heavy oils. Focussing on barrier repair is key so those with ceramides, niacinamide, squalene, glycerin, are all helpful. Occlusives again can be helpful as long as you can tolerate them.
People fortunate enough to have normal skin can go with any moisturiser and see which is best. Something with a little bit of all three is good.
Use of active ingredients
Some moisturisers come with active ingredients within them too. As mentioned above niacinamide (a B vitamin) is great for rosacea, acne, repairing skin barrier. Vitamin C is fantastic ingredient as will help pigmentation and wrinkles, is an anti inflammatory, and great all rounder. Retinols will help with excess oil. Salicylic acid also helps with oil. So, you may want to think about either looking at ingredients to help within moisturisers or actually purchase these active ingredients separately. But it can get expensive. Many of the more expensive skin care products do incorporate some of these actives within them, which is why they cost more. But you are getting several things in one product and so saving long term, plus not risking over treating the skin which will make it dry and irritable.
Anti inflammatory botanical extracts are also found in the more expensive moisturisers, and again can help enormously when skin is struggling.
A word on emulsifiers
Emulsifiers prevent the oils and water-based content of moisturisers separating. But they can be as irritating to the skin as fragrances and preservatives. So, for those with more sensitive skins, this may be why you are plastering your face with moisturiser, but you don’t feel you are seeing any change, or even having increased irritation. Some of the ones that are most irritating are lauryl sulphates and lauryl ether sulphates. Non-ionic emulsifiers are the best option e.g. polysorbate 20 or 80. So keep an eye on what is in your moisturiser and whether you have issues with these additives. Again, the more expensive skin creams are often formulated to try to minimise irritating ingredients.
Skin care consultation:
Here at London & Surrey Aesthetics, we go through a through consultation so that we can advise on which types of moisturiser you may find helpful for your skin type as well as other skincare ingredients which may improve your skin. By coming for a consultation, a bespoke skincare regime can be worked through to suit your budget
Why not book today via Glowday on the link below: