The Truth About Moisturizers and Dry Skin
Fact: Not everyone needs a moisturizer
Fact: Moisturizers, to be truly effective, are not about giving skin moisture, but helping skin retain its existing moisture level
Fact: Too much moisture can actually cause problems for the skin
Fact: Everyone needs ingredients that enhance the function and structure of skin to prevent dryness (and lots of moisturizers can't do this)
Fact: Jar and clear packaging causes beneficial, state-of-the-art skin-care ingredients to break down!
It might seem shocking for some of you to learn that everyone doesn't need a moisturizer when there seems to be so much information to the contrary. Regardless of the source--ads for skin-care products, articles in fashion magazines, salespeople, estheticians, as well as many dermatologists earnestly and continually insisting just the opposite is true--by their standards everyone needs moisturizer, and lots of it. I'm going to explain why this may not be the case and clear up the confusion around this often misunderstood and misrepresented group of products. But before I explain more about moisturizers and how to treat dry skin, it is important to understand what dry skin is really all about.
Commonplace dry skin (as opposed to medical conditions such as ichthyosis, eczema, or atopic dermatitis) is a transient problem existing on a continuum of slight dryness to extreme dryness dependent upon many factors, including the environment, health, genetics, hormones (loss of estrogen), sun damage, dry conditions inside or outside your home, and the use of drying or irritating skin-care products (such as bar soap, bar cleansers, and toners that contain drying or irritating ingredients). These problems are compounded when we use skin-care products that mask the problem of dry skin but don't treat or affect the underlying causes of the condition.
Unfortunately, dry skin can feel exceedingly uncomfortable. It is associated with a feeling of stiffness and tightness, along with a rough, uneven texture with obviously shedding (flaking) skin. As surface cells become increasingly dehydrated they build up, causing skin to lose its elasticity and tone. As dryness continues, skin becomes dull and looks older; it can also itch, become inflamed, cracked, and fissured. Your risk of infection and dermatitis can increase. None of that feels or looks great.
Understanding Dry Skin
Physiologically, dry skin is primarily taking place on the surface of skin, where dead cells make up the outer protective layer called the stratum corneum. When skin is functioning normally, this surface layer of skin cells is imperceptibly shed every day and is simultaneously (and continuously) replaced by new skin cells generated in the lower layers of skin. But the stratum corneum is far more than a place where cells go to die. Instead, it's a dynamic structure that affects not only your skin's appearance but also its health.
In between the cells, on the surface of skin, are vital substances that maintain the skin's structure, integrity, smoothness, tone, and immune system. Often called the intercellular matrix or ingredients that mimic the structure of skin, these substances are the mortar that holds the bricks of your skin (i.e. skin cells) together. Composed mainly of amino acids, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, cholesterol, fatty acids, triglycerides, phospholipids, glycosphingolipids, urea, linoleic acid, glycosaminoglycans, glycerin, mucopolysaccharide, and sodium PCA (pyrrolidone carboxylic acid), the intercellular matrix forms a strong, protective barrier that preserves the moisture content of skin cells. Strip away or impair this barrier and your skin cells lose the water and essential substances they need to stay healthy and supple (Sources: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, www.mayoclinic.com; Journal of Investigative Dermatology, January 1999, pages 72-77; American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, June 2005, pages 215-223; and Archives of Dermatological Research, August 2000, pages 412-417).
Unfortunately, the intercellular matrix is very easily damaged. It is extremely vulnerable to the environment (sunlight, oxygen, pollution, arid conditions) and skin-care products (particularly soap, alcohol, and irritating ingredients). Injury caused from these factors occurs on a daily basis if you aren't careful or aware of how to stop them or at the very least reduce their influence on skin. Mitigating this kind of harm to skin is the crux in keeping your skin moist and supple! Ignoring these factors leaves your intercellular matrix in a constant state of disruption and may render it completely unresponsive to even the heaviest, most emollient moisturizer.
Water Content of Skin
A healthy stratum corneum is about 30% water, which contributes a great deal to the skin's feeling of resilience and elasticity (Sources: Journal of American Academy of Physician Assistants, September 2004, pages 26-30; Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, September-October 2004, pages 246-257; www.emedicine.com/derm/topic506.htm; and Journal of Biological Chemistry, May 10, 2002, pages 17,147-17,153). When the moisture content of skin drops below this 30% concentration level, dry skin is usually the outcome. Yet, conversely, too much water, in particular prolonged soaking or long showers, actually impairs and disrupts the skin's protective outer barrier and can cause irritation, dryness, and an impaired immune response (Sources: Journal of Investigative Dermatology, December 1999, page 960-966; and Wound Care Journal, October 2004, pages 417-425).
When skin can't get water from the outside air because of dry conditions, it will look for the water in the lower layers of skin (Source: Dermatologic Therapy, February 2004, pages 43-48). Staying hydrated by drinking water is extremely important but it isn't everything. You simply can't drink away dry skin if the surface of skin isn't working optimally to prevent water loss (Source: American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology, November 2002, pages 993-1004).
Preventing and Treating Dry Skin
What all skin types need to avoid dryness during any season and overall to be sure their skin is functioning normally are an assortment of ingredients that have very little to do with "moisture" and everything to do with helping skin make healthier cells, generate new collagen, and maintain and protect the skin's outer layer. Whether those special ingredients come in the form of a toner or serum (best for those with normal to oily skin), sunscreen, anti-aging treatment, traditional "moisturizer," or some other specialty product is irrelevant. What counts is that the products you use contain them in levels that can actually make a difference.
Traditional moisturizers with varying degrees of emollient bases are great for someone with truly dry skin, but only if they are loaded with ingredients that reduce environmental damage (antioxidants and sunscreen), help make healthier skin cells (cell-communicating ingredients), and enhance or repair the intercellular matrix. Women with combination to oily skin should approach most moisturizers with extreme caution. That's because so many moisturizers are in either a lotion or cream form which can be very good for dry skin, but can lead to a host of problems for those with oily, combination, and blemish-prone or blackhead-prone skin types.
Does Dry Skin Cause Wrinkles? NO!
Why the mania over moisturizers? Why are so many women (and, increasingly, men) slathering on lotions and creams regardless of whether or not their skin needs them? Because most people believe the long-standing myth that dry skin causes wrinkles. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The notion that dry skin is more prone to wrinkles is utterly false but with so many products claiming they can firm, tone, lift, sculpt, de-puff, and act like medically injected fillers for wrinkles or substitutes for Botox, it's no wonder so many consumers can't imagine facing the day without at least one moisturizer.
Why does the myth about dry skin causing wrinkles persist? Simply put, when you have dry skin wrinkles look more pronounced and when you put on a moisturizer, voila!, wrinkles look less noticeable. However, this improvement is not a function of the moisturizer changing your skin or necessarily giving your skin what it needs, but an extremely temporary effect taking place on the surface of skin. That is a nice function of moisturizers but depending on the specific product's formulation it doesn't help the underlying problems making skin look older than it is.
How do we know dry skin doesn't cause wrinkles? Essentially because extensive research has made it clear that sun damage, muscle movement, loss of estrogen, cellular aging, inflammatory response, collagen destruction, free-radical damage, gravity, and fat movement are the critical elements causing wrinkles. None of those things have anything to do with how dry your skin is or how much "moisture" you put on it. (Sources: Federation of European Biochemical Societies, August 16, 2005, pages ; Fertility and Sterility, August 2005, page 295; Cutis, February 2005, Supplemental, pages 5-8; Facial Plastic Surgery, February 2005, pages 3-10; Rejuvenation Research, Fall 2004, pages 175-185; Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, April 2005, pages 1156-1162; American Journal of Pathology, September 2004, pages 741-751; and Facial Plastic Surgery Clinics of North America, November 2003, pages 439-443).
Source: Paula Begoun Newsletter