Why we need moisturizers

Many different brands and types of moisturizers are available on the market, and their effect on aging skin can vary dramatically. Below we explain why moisturizer is so important, and the functions of different moisturizers.

If you had dry or even normal skin when you were younger, you probably already know the importance of keeping your skin well-moisturized. If you had oilier skin, however, you might be surprised by your skin’s sudden need for lots of extra hydration.

Skin needs consistent moisture to look fresh, radiant and young. As it ages, the levels of natural moisture decrease, and this is why older skin is prone to becoming parched. Unfortunately, dryness accentuates other signs of aging, such as wrinkles. 

The epidermis and aging

The outer, visible layer of the skin is called the epidermis.

When we are young, the cells of our epidermis shed frequently, constantly renewing the look of our complexion. However, as we age we find that the turnover and replacement of the cells in this visible layer of the skin become much less frequent. 

The result is often a large collection of dead cells that make our complexion appear dull and uneven. It might also be flaky and rough in texture. While it is true that at any time the majority of the cells in the epidermis are dead, the longer the cells are in that state, the dryer and duller the skin feels and appears. 

This is why exfoliation and moisturization are both so important in helping us make our skin look as youthful as possible. Exfoliation can also help prep the skin to make moisturizer penetrate more effectively.

Types of moisturizers

There are many different brands and types of moisturizers, and a variety of uses for them. 

You need to find a moisturizer that will be effective in increasing your skin’s water content (delivering hydration). Keep a look out for the below types of moisturizers.

  • A moisturizer may form a layer of thin film on the surface of your skin that helps prevent loss of the water that is already in the skin through evaporation. Examples of ingredients that can do this include grape seed oil, soybean oil, petrolatum, mineral oil, silicones (such as dimethicone), and lanolin. Moisturizers that perform this function are called occlusive or semi-occlusive moisturizers, and many are often quite greasy on the skin.
  • A moisturizer may have ingredients that allow it to boost the skin’s water-holding capacity and attract new water from the air into the skin’s dry outer layer. This type of moisturizer, called a humectant-moisturizing cream or lotion, tends to be very effective in creating an immediately plumped-up and smooth look to the skin.  Humectant-moisturizing ingredients include panthenol, PCA, glycerine, urea, gelatine, sorbital and honey. The most effective humectant is hyaluronic acid, which creates a useful film on the skin for holding in moisture. Humectants are able to pull moisture from the atmosphere and transfer it to your skin. They are best equipped to do this when the humidity of your environment is at least 80%. Humectants also transfer water from deeper layers of your skin to the surface layer (epidermis). Usually, moisturizing lotions and creams that contain humectants also have occlusive agents. These aid the humectants in making the skin have a better water-holding capacity.
  • A moisturizer can have emollient or barrier-repair agents. These agents replace lipids – the oils, amino acids and lipids, such as ceramide and cholesterol – present in young skin. Oils, amino acids and lipids create a barrier to protect the moisture of the skin. They are also effective in making the skin smoother and more flexible. 

You should look for a moisturizer that contains ingredients in all three of these categories. 

How to use moisturizers effectively

Most skincare specialists say you should moisturize regularly enough that your skin never becomes extremely dry. 

Consider applying moisturizer immediately after you get out of the bath or shower. This will not only eliminate the dryness that hot water often causes, but will also help trap the moisture in your skin before it has a chance to evaporate.

References

Slow Ageing Guide to Skin Rejuvenation by Kate Marie, Professor Merlin Christopher Thomas, and Dr. John Flynn, 2016.

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