Why Use the Best Moisturizers?
Unless your skin is extremely oily, you'll need a moisturizer. In fact, a good moisturizer is one of your skin's best friends.
Water constantly evaporates through our skin into the air, at a rate of roughly one pint per day. The more water our skin loses, the drier it gets. This evaporation rate can vary based on a number of factors, including genetics (we inherit a tendency toward dry or oily skin), climate (if the air around us is very dry, we lose water faster), and age (over time, the horny layer becomes somewhat less effective at holding water in).
How do best moisturizers help? They form a film on your skin that functions as a barrier, helping to hold the water in longer. This is a good thing, but not necessarily for the reasons advertisers would have you believe.
Sometimes moisturizers are advertised as preventing wrinkles. However, moisturizers applied to the surface of the skin do not change the physiology of the dermis. Therefore, in and of themselves they don't prevent wrinkles from forming. (Certain additions to moisturizers, such as alpha hydroxy acids and sunscreens, may help in this regard.)
That said, it's true that the very fine lines caused by facial tightness when the skin is dry can be eased by applying a moisturizer, and a moisturized wrinkle tends to look softer than a dry one.
Stalking the Perfect Best Moisturizer
A best moisturizer should contain an oil or oil-like substance that spreads out smoothly to create an even layer over the skin surface.
You'll find four main types of oils in the best moisturizers:
Vegetable oils. A staggering number of plants contribute moisturizing oils: almond, avocado, basil, carrot, coconut, corn, jojoba, macadamia, olive, palm, rice bran, safflower, sandalwood, soybean, sunflower seed, and wheat germ (to name just a few). Many vegetable oils can be absorbed into the skin, allowing them to moisturize the epidermis. Generally, one moisturizes about as well as any other in this list; exotic specimens from faraway lands aren't necessarily more effective.
Animal oils. Generally, this means fish oils or lanolin (derived from sheep's wool). Sometimes you will see other animal fats (lipids), such as cholesterol, glycolipids, or phospholipids. Like plant-based oils, animal oils can be absorbed into the skin.
Mineral oils. This category includes substances derived from petroleum (the familiar mineral oil and Vaseline) and silicone oils derived from sand or rock (cyclomethicone, phenyl trimethicone, dimethicone). They may sound less appealing than plant oils, but they're great moisturizers. Petroleum derivatives are heavy, and some people find they cause pimples; silicone oils are lighter. The molecules of mineral oils are too large to be absorbed by the skin, but this isn't necessarily bad. The oils stay on the skin surface and form an effective barrier against water loss.
Vitamin E. Usually listed on labels as tocopherol, its chemical name, vitamin E makes a good moisturizing oil. Some companies would have you believe that it can nourish your skin, but as you've seen, you can't nourish skin from the outside in. There are also a lot of claims made about its antioxidant properties, but these may be overblown.
Remember, any moisturizer that contains oils may aggravate acne-prone skin. Does this mean people with acne-prone skin shouldn't use a moisturizer at all? No, it doesn't.
Some products contain other substances that aren't oils but can also moisturize effectively for instance, collagen, a protein component of the skin's dermis layer. Spreading it on your skin won't supplement or strengthen your own collagen, but it does create an effective film that guards against water loss. Collagen molecules are too big to be absorbed, but as you saw for mineral oils, this can be a plus for blocking evaporation.
Other moisturizing ingredients include humectants, which may draw water to the skin from the environment or from the dermis. Humectants may be used in oil-free preparations, which are recommended for acne-prone skin. Some examples of oil-free moisturizers include the following:
Mucopolysaccharides and hyaluronic acid. Like collagen, mucopolysaccharides, including hyaluronic acid, are natural components of skin, with large molecules that can't be absorbed. They form a good water-binding film on the skin surface.
Glycerin. A water-attracting humectant, glycerin has long been used to hydrate chapped skin.
Propylene glycol. In terms of its action on skin, propylene glycol has similar properties to glycerin. In high concentrations, propylene glycol may be irritating.
Which ingredient is best? All of those I've discussed can do a good job of holding in water, and a typical moisturizer contains several. If you have dry skin, you might look for a blend of an emollient that sinks into the skin (such as vegetable or animal oil) and one that remains on the skin surface to bind in water (like mineral oil or collagen). Experiment to find the combination that works best for you.
If your skin is naturally oily, you may not need a moisturizer. Try cutting back on toners and switching to a milder cleanser to make sure you're not drying out your skin with harsh products. If you still feel you need a moisturizer, try one labeled oil-free. Note that some oil-free moisturizers do contain silicone oils, which tend to be lighter-textured than vegetable and animal oils, and better tolerated by many oily complexions. For more information, see Ingredients to Avoid later in this chapter.
Another choice for people with oily skin is an oil-controlling moisturizer. These products contain ingredients such as talc, clay, or special polymers that absorb oil. Their moisturizing components prevent them from drying the skin too much, while their oil absorbers soak up excess oils.
How Many Best Moisturizers Do You Need?
Until recently, moisturizers came in two basic categories: those best for the face, and those best for everywhere else. Traditionally, women spent 90 percent of their time and money on the facial products, and only 10 percent on the rest. Scenting a huge potential market, companies began introducing specialized moisturizers for different areas of the body. First came eye creams, and then foot creams. These days you can find a moisturizer for just about every body part --thighs, legs, elbows, neck, lips, you name it.
Do you really need this many moisturizers? Probably not. There's no reason you can't apply your regular facial moisturizer around your eyes, on your neck, or anywhere else. Any product that hydrates the skin on your face will do the same for the rest of you. The only limitations may be price (facial moisturizers are probably too expensive to lavish on your entire epidermis) and texture (many are creamy and could stain clothing).
You could also use many body products on your face. However, some might not be best because they contain alcohol, fragrance, or other potentially irritating ingredients. In my opinion, you need two basic moisturizers: one for your face and one for your body.
If your lips are persistently dry, you could also try a lip moisturizer. You can find a wide choice of brands in cosmetic departments and drugstores. Or, try a petroleum jellylike Vaseline, which is highly effective and a lot cheaper. You can apply lipstick right over it. If dryness or chapping persist, you may be reacting to your lipstick or lip liner. Stop using the product for a few weeks, and see if that clears up the problem.
Tips for Applying Moisturizer
Whatever moisturizer you choose, remember the following: Wash your hands first, then your face. Always apply moisturizer while your face is still damp. Put it on first thing after you step out of the shower or after you wash your face.Dab moisturizer on each cheek and on your nose, chin, and forehead. Use your hands to lightly spread the moisturizer over your face with gentle, upward strokes. Don't worry about rubbing the moisturizer in; let your skin absorb it naturally.
Never rub hard or tug at your skin. If your moisturizer is so thick that it's difficult to rub gently, it may be too cold; try placing the container near a lamp or in a warm area before applying it. If it's still too stiff, try a different product. If your moisturizer doesn't contain sunscreen, apply sunscreen or makeup with sunscreen after the moisturizer dries during your daytime application. Always wait until your skin is completely dry before exposing it to wind or cold. Otherwise, your skin could become chapped.
Ingredients to Avoid
My patients frequently ask if there are certain ingredients they should avoid in skin care products.
Yes! But which ones they are depends on your skin type, since what bothers oily skin may not irritate dry skin and vice versa. Below, I cite frequent offenders for each skin type. Keep in mind, though, that everybody's skin is unique. You may have no problem with these items, or you may be sensitive to an ingredient that's not listed here.
The Best Moisturizers for Dry Skin
If you have dry skin, use caution with the following:
Remember that labels list ingredients in sequence from highest to lowest quantities. The earlier something comes in the list, the more of it the product contains. Keep this in mind when you evaluate products; something that irritates your skin in high quantities may be fine in lower concentrations.
The Best Moisturizers for Oily Skin
Earlier, I noted that ingredients that annoy dry skin may not do the same to oily complexions. Be aware, however, that this isn't always the case; even if an ingredient doesn't dry your skin out, you could still find it irritating or sensitizing.
Oily-skinned folks have other concerns as well when it comes to ingredients. In particular, you need to watch out for the oils in skin care products. Many acne-prone people have trouble with petroleum-based oils (mineral oil and Vaseline, for example), which can be great moisturizers for dry skin but tend to leave a greasy film. Lanolin, a common ingredient in moisturizers, may also be too heavy for you. Check the product label, since lanolin could appear in several forms (lanolin alcohol, lanolin oil, acetylated lanolin, or hydroxylated lanolin).
Always look for oil-free products, but be aware that many products labeled oil-free aren't always, well, oil free. They may lack vegetable, animal, and petroleum derivatives, but some do contain silicone oils (cyclomethicone, dimethicone, or phenyl trimethicone). While they are lighter than other oils and are likely to be well tolerated, they could still cause problems if your skin has a very strong tendency to break out. I also recommend going light on products with alcohol. Alcohol is drying for almost everybody. Only people with extremely oily skin are likely to be able to tolerate it.