The Importance of Using a Moisturizer

Moisturizers put water into the skin and prevent moisture loss. They come in a wide variety of formulations including gels, lotions and creams as well as ointments.

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Moisturizing protects against the daily loss of skin cells, especially in the face, ears, neck and chest which are areas that develop wrinkles at a faster rate. Moisturizing also improves skin hydration, reduces itching and smoothes out the appearance of skin.

Hydration

As a daily part of your skincare regimen, moisturizer is one of the most important steps to keeping skin healthy and radiant. Moisturizers work by trapping water and enhancing skin cell turnover, which helps to smooth out texture, soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and even out skin tone.

Most moisturizers are formulated with hydrating ingredients that provide moisture to the outer layers of skin. They also help protect your skin from harsh environments like cold, dry indoor air.

There are three types of moisturizers: occlusives, emollients and humectants. Occlusives, like petroleum jelly sold as Vaseline, form a barrier over your skin that blocks the evaporation of water and helps keep your skin hydrated. Many fatty or waxy substances are occlusive, including shea butter, cocoa butter, jojoba oil and mineral oils (petroleum, paraffin or neem). Emollients are mostly made up of lipids that fill in gaps between dead skin cells, making them feel soft and smooth. They can include a variety of vegetable oils and waxes, or silicones such as dimethicone or cyclomethicone.

A good daily lightweight moisturizer containing skin calming and rejuvenating ingredients such as niacinamide or hyaluronic acid will do wonders for your skin! Remember to apply moisturizer with upward strokes, which works against gravity and discourages sagging. For drier skin, you may want to choose a heavier cream or ointment that acts as an occlusive.

Nourishment

Moisturizers are a staple in most skincare regimens and serve to keep skin healthy. They can come in the form of lotions, creams, ointments and even bath oils. They typically contain humectants, emulsifiers, fragrances, penetration enhancers and preservatives. Some moisturizers contain plant or animal extracts to impart specific skin benefits such as anti-aging or sun protection.

The skin’s natural moisture barrier can be damaged by over-cleaning, harsh soaps and other chemicals, excessive exposure to sunlight or a dry indoor environment. In this case, the skin will produce more oil to try and make up for the loss of moisture. This process is referred to as transepidermal water loss (or TEWL). Moisturizers are designed to replace the lost moisture by trapping it in the epidermis and keeping it from escaping.

Moisturizers can range in thickness from light products like lotions to intense hydration solutions like thick creams. They can also contain varying concentrations of humectants and lipids to target the right skin type. Lighter formulations are better suited for acne-prone skin, while richer moisturizers may be more beneficial to those with dry or aging skin. The best time to apply a moisturizer is after you have cleansed your face and shaved or exfoliated. Then, gently pat the skin dry to avoid rubbing, which can irritate the skin. It is recommended that you moisturize daily to keep your skin healthy and radiant.

Antioxidants

You’ve probably heard of antioxidants, the vitamins and minerals that fight free radicals. These unstable molecules damage cells, break down collagen, and hinder your skin’s natural repair processes—resulting in fine lines and wrinkles, uneven pigmentation, dryness, and acne. Antioxidants counteract this by safely pairing up with free radicals to exchange their extra electrons before they can cause damage.

Moisturizers that contain antioxidants — like green tea, pomegranate, and licorice root extract — can help keep your complexion healthy-looking. They can also help reduce the appearance of blemishes, such as dark spots and scarring. And they can even control the production of melanin, the pigment that dictates your skin’s color.

Aside from containing antioxidants, moisturizers also often include occlusive ingredients that lock in moisture by creating an impervious lipid barrier on the skin’s surface. Ingredients such as shea butter, glycerin, propylene glycol, proteins, and urea attract water from the environment to keep your skin hydrated. Mineral oils and fatty acids, such as petrolatum, also serve this purpose by trapping water within the epidermis. These ingredients are great for oily or acne-prone skin because they won’t clog pores. For sensitive skin, look for moisturizers that are non-comedogenic and contain anti-inflammatory ingredients such as palmitoyl ethanolamine, glycyrrhetinic acid, or telmesteine. These will soothe inflamed skin and minimize redness. They’ll also help keep your skin hydrated by blocking cyclooxygenase activity and down-regulating proinflammatory cytokines.

Sensitive Skin

People with sensitive skin feel discomfort when they use soaps, face creams or even sun screens that others can tolerate. They may experience stinging, tingling, or redness, as well as flaking, dry patches and bumps. The condition can be genetic or linked to conditions like rosacea and eczema. It’s also common in women during menopause or after hormone changes, when the skin becomes drier and thinner.

Dermatologists don’t usually consider sensitivity to be a clinical diagnosis, but rather a description of how your skin responds to certain environmental or topical triggers. “Sensitive skin is typically caused by a weaker barrier, which allows irritants like cold temperatures or ingredients to penetrate the surface more easily,” board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist (a specialist who diagnoses conditions at a molecular level) Michael Kassardjian tells SELF. Symptoms of the condition often include irritation, itching and redness, but can extend to the armpits and groin due to thinner skin in these areas.

If you think you have sensitive skin, it’s important to test new products on your hand or behind your ear before you slather them on the face, says Illinois-based board-certified dermatologist Jessie Cheung. You can also try a product with the skin barrier-nourishing ingredient niacinamide or occlusive moisturizers, such as Good Housekeeping Seal star Vaseline and Aquaphor. If your sensitivity doesn’t improve, talk to your dermatologist about it. They may recommend a different regimen or suggest allergy testing to help identify any potential culprits.