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All About Moisturizers (Dry Skin)
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All About Moisturizers

Charles Lynde, MD, FRCPC

Most of us are enticed by the allure of attaining or maintaining smooth, hydrated, and shiny skin that feels good to the touch. Many of us, especially those of us with dry skin, have looked at moisturizers as a way of treating dry or cracked skin during the winter. The abundance of demand has resulted in the plethora of moisturizing products that are available at every supermarket. Sometimes with all of those products to choose from, it can be overwhelming, especially if you aren’t sure what it is that you are looking for. We hope that this article helps you make informed choices about which moisturizer to purchase. For more information about what moisturizer is right for your skin type, visit this page, and read the following article:

How do Moisturizers work?

Moisturizers slow down the natural evaporation of moisture in the skin by replacing natural skin oil, which covers microscopic fissures in the skin. Moisturizers not only increase water content within the skin and provide a protective film, it restores the skin’s ability to store water, and reduces natural water loss.

Do Moisturizers remove wrinkles?

Moisturizers have the effect of smoothing the skin over. This has the effect of making wrinkles less apparent. However, they will not have any long-term effect of reducing or removing existing wrinkles.

What should I be looking for in a product?

You are looking for products that help to smooth out the skin, and allow the skin to retain moisture. Other good traits are quick absorption and long lasting effects. Depending on your skin type, make sure that the product fits your unique needs. Consider how sensitive your skin is, and look for these—non allergenic, non-sensitizing, fragrance free, or non-comedogenic products as your needs require.

Are there more ways of differentiating products?

There are indeed many products on the shelves, and few ways to differentiate between them. There isn’t a single product that is ideal for all skin types, so the product that your best friend recommends may not work for you. However, there are general ingredients that dermatologists look for in a moisturizer.

  • Humectants, which are water binding agents, do not necessarily help the skin retain moisture, but heals sun damaged skin.
  • Occlusives block water loss in the skin layers and are included in products like Petrolatum, lanolin, mineral oil, and dimethicone, and act as a protective barrier for the skin.
  • Emollients such as plant and mineral oils, shea or cocoa butter, petrolatum, or silicone are used as lubricating agents to soften the skin and allow it to retain moisture better.
  • Anti-irritants such as aloe, licorice root, green tea, or chamomile extracts are commonly added to moisturizers to help reduce potential reaction to other irritants in the solution.
  • Alpha hydroxyl acids such as lactic or glycolic acids can help treat rough or scaly skin.
  • The opinion on vitamins and certain antioxidants can be varied, even among experts.
  • Remember that products must have a certain quantity of a certain substance to have a positive effect on the skin. Just because a product contains a beneficial substance does not mean that it contains the substance in adequate quantities to make a noticeable difference.

Are there any downsides to using moisturizers?

Like any cosmetic products, moisturizers can contain substances that your skin may not react well to. General irritation to certain solvents, or lactic acids are common, as are cases of allergic contact dermatitis, reacting to fragrances or preservatives that are in the moisturizer. Photo contact dermatitis, as well as sweat retention are also known reactions to certain moisturizers if you have a sensitivity to certain products. If you notice any of these symptoms, we suggest that you visit a doctor and discontinue use of the product.

Should I buy high end brands or generic moisturizers?

That depends on a lot of factors including ones don’t have anything to do with your skin. Each person’s skin is unique, and you will need to experiment a little to see what works best for you. However, experts generally agree that low cost brands are just as effective as their more expensive counterparts. One general advice is to apply your moisturizer when your hands are damp as it increases skin absorption, requiring less application.

Any other advice?

Avoid products that have added fragrance preservatives or botanicals, as these can be irritants for dry skin or cause allergic contact dermatitis. Much like food labelling, the order of the ingredients are listed in order of content. If an ingredient like vitamin C is at the bottom of the list, chances are that there is very little of it. Moisturizers will not increase natural collagen production or elastin; substances that have these effects cannot penetrate the skin.

Do not wash your face too often as it can dehydrate your skin. Use a gentle cleanser formulated for dry skin, twice a day at most. Finally, adding olive oil or lavender oil can make your skin feel smooth.


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