The Importance of Moisturizers in Skincare

Moisturizing is one of the most important facets of proper skincare, and serves to protect the skin from drying and itch. Skin can quickly lose moisture through evaporation depending on the patient's skin, and environmental factors like temperature and humidity and become dehydrated and vulnerable. Proper use of moisturizers can help keep the skin healthy and supple.

What is dry skin and what causes it?

Dry skin is a very common problem that can be caused by a weak barrier function in the skin as is the case in diseases like eczema. Even in those with normal or even oily skin, exposure to extreme weather and low humidity can quickly drain the skin of moisture. This is particularly a problem during the winter months as both temperature and humidity drop. Indoor heating also dries the air, accelerating skin drying. Irritants such as harsh soaps and detergents or certain harsh chemicals can also play a role in aggravating dry skin. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and lack of hydration can also trigger skin dryness. Finally, skin tends to become drier in general with aging.

Dry skin will feel rough and crusty, causing the skin to flake and peel off once it loses sufficient moisture. It will often feel tight and irritated. If severe, the skin may crack, leaving it open to infections. Dryness will often lead to itching, which can be extremely frustrating. Worse, itching induces scratching which can lead to damage and further itching very quickly in a pernicious feedback loop called the itch-scratch cycle.

  • Dry skin is extremely common
  • Dry skin can be a tendency, a symptom of a condition such as eczema, or caused by environmental factors such as temperature and humidity levels
  • Irritants and allergens can contribute to dry skin, or aggravate existing dry skin
  • Lifestyle factors like sun exposure, alcohol consumption, and smoking can affect skin hydration
  • Mildly dry skin will simply feel rough and crusty which may also itch
  • As more hydration is lost, skin may dry out and peel off more frequently
  • Severe dryness can lead to painful cracks and fissures which increase the risk of infection
  • Itching is a potential problem at all stages, prompting the sufferer to scratch and damage the skin further

What can I do to control dry skin?

Dry skin is best managed by the combination of minimizing exposure to conditions that dry out the skin, and consistent and regular moisturizing. The first part is to control the factors that you can control and doing your part to avoid irritating dry skin. Common causes of irritation like bathing too long or in very hot water are completely avoidable. Harsh soaps should be replaced by mild cleansers, and clothing should be washed using less detergent and rinsed twice if your skin is sensitive to these factors.

Moisturizers are your best proactive weapon against drying skin, and they should be used regularly if dry skin is a problem for you. In particular, moisturizers are best used after a shower or bath when the skin is still moist and ready to absorb the moisturizer. Moisturizers help the skin hydrate by sealing in water, reducing moisture that is naturally lost via evaporation. They also help to fill in micro cracks in the skin, and help to draw moisture to the surface of the skin which is typically dry.

  • Minimize environmental factors that aggravate dry skin. Although a tendency for dry skin has many genetic factors which can't be controlled, environmental factors are almost always responsible for triggering severe dryness.
  • Low temperatures and low humidity are the main factors that accelerate drying of the skin. Although we can't control climate, keeping covered up properly can protect your skin. Indoor heating is also a factor that saps humidity from the environment. Humidifiers can help to mitigate the drying effects of heating.
  • Excessive bathing or washing can irritate and dry skin. Bathing is important but you can minimize damage by using warm instead of hot water, and spending less time exposed to water. When drying, gently pat the skin instead of vigorously rubbing, and moisturize immediately after while the skin is still moist.
  • Harsh soaps and detergents should be discarded in favor of mild cleansers and fragrance free products.
  • Choose thicker consistencies when choosing a moisturizer if you have severely dry skin. If you have a condition like eczema, this is especially important.
  • Moisturizing regularly can help maintain supple and healthy looking skin. Although there is no evidence that moisturizers reverse wrinkling, they can temporarily reduce the appearance of minor creases as the skin regains hydration.
  • Moisturize regularly for best results. Consistency is the key.

What to look for in a moisturizer

Moisturizing helps maintain supple and healthy looking skin, and most people recognize the important role that moisturizers play in skincare. With the plethora of information out there, and marketers fighting for your attention, it's common to feel lost when choosing products.

While there are important criteria that you should be looking for, you should also remember that personal preference is also an important factor. As moisturizers work best when applied routinely, the product that you choose should be one that you would be comfortable using on a regular basis.

  • Consider your skin type when choosing moisturizers. If you have extremely dry skin, you will need a rich creamy moisturizer with a thick consistency. If you have oily skin, a lightweight serum should suffice. Products that are labelled non-comedogenic or non-acnegenic may help if you have a problem with acne breakouts. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to consider products that are labelled fragrance free or hypoallergenic as they are less likely to irritate the skin.
  • Choosing a moisturizer for acne prone skin or sensitive skin can be a challenge. As each skin is individual, there is an element of trial and error that is unavoidable.
  • Personal preference is also an important factor that is often ignored by the medical community. Smell, feel, and price are all important factors that influence how comfortable you are with the product, and how frequently you use it.
  • The price range of a product is also worth thinking about. Moisturizers vary widely in price, ranging from approximately $10 to ones that cost up to $500 or more. While there is something to be said about formulation and ingredients which can be costly, a large part of the price tag in all cosmetics goes into marketing. Choose a product with a price that you would feel comfortable using on a daily basis. Remember that moisturizers are most effective when used regularly.