You’ve run out of moisturizer, and you’ve decided to try something new. But as you stroll down the aisle of soaps and lotions, you start feeling overwhelmed by the choices. How do you choose? Here are some quick and easy steps to help you narrow down your choices and pick the best moisturizer for your skin.
At their most basic level, moisturizers prevent and treat dry skin by adding and trapping water in the outer layer of your skin, the epidermis. As they perform these functions, they also strengthen the skin’s ability to be a barrier to outside assaults by preventing cracks from forming while also making the skin more smooth, supple, and soft. Moisturizers contain water, which helps to replenish water that has evaporated from the outer layer. They also have wax, grease or oil that helps trap the water in the skin so that your skin stays hydrated. There are 3 major categories of moisturizers: humectants, emollients and occlusives. Humectants draw water from the surrounding environment to the skin and cause the skin to trap the water molecules. Common humectants are alpha hydroxy acids, glycerin, hyaluronic acid and salicylic acid. An occlusive is usually oil-based and traps water in the skin by forming a protective layer on the top of the skin. Some occlusives you may see in lotions or use as a moisturizer are petroleum jelly, mineral oil and beeswax. Your skin naturally has fatty acids and lipids in it, and when these are missing, your skin gets scaly and flakey. Enter emollients. Emollients fill in the gaps between skin cells that are lacking their fatty layers of lipids. They also help hydrate and create a protective barrier on your skin. Emollient ingredients in moisturizers include ceramides, fatty acids, lanolin, jojoba oil, and castor oil.
If your skin is not too oily or too dry, you can be described as having normal skin. Your best moisturizer type is a lighter, water-based lotion. Look for one that has both humectant and emollient ingredients. The lotion may have lightweight oils or silicone-derived ingredients, such as cyclomethicone. If you have some areas that are oily and some that are dry, use a medium-weight lotion for the dryer areas.
Oily skin tends to be greasy, shiny and vulnerable to breakouts. If you have oily skin, you are probably using products to control breakouts, products which tend to dry out the skin. You need to restore moisture to your skin without adding to the oil your skin already produces. Use a moisturizer that is oil-free and comprised mostly of humectants. A gel is your best option. It is lightweight and easily soaks into your skin. Also look for the non-comedogenic label -- this means it won’t clog your pores.
Creams are the ideal moisturizer for dry, cracked, and flakey skin. Creams usually contain the oils and lipids that dry skin needs to restore and maintain hydration. Look for moisturizers with ceramides -- fats that your skin naturally produces. Creams that have alpha-hydroxy acids, like lactic acid, can help to exfoliate dead skin cells, reducing the prevalence of dry skin. If you have severely dry and/or cracked skin, use an occlusive like Vaseline or Aquaphor. These products are the best for preventing water loss from your skin. You might prefer to apply occlusives at night, as they might feel too greasy for daytime use.
Finding the right moisturizer for sensitive skin is as much about what’s not in the product as what is in it. Look for moisturizers that don’t have irritants, like acid, and are labeled hypoallergenic and fragrance-free. Don’t go with the “unscented” label -- it may still have fragrances to mask certain smells. You can also use the basic rule to find a moisturizer with less than 10 ingredients -- the fewer the ingredients, the lesser chance of having irritants on your sensitive skin. Some ingredients that you will want to see for soothing irritated skin are aloe vera, chamomile, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and soy.
No matter what kind of moisturizer you use, you should apply one on your face that has sunscreen in it with an SPF of at least 30. This will protect your skin from wrinkles, sun spots and skin cancer. You may want to look for other ingredients that do things like soften fine lines, brighten your skin, repair damage, treat eczema, have anti-aging properties, or lighten dark spots. Put on your moisturizer after you bathe when your skin is still damp -- this will help trap the moisture on your skin. Put any medicated creams on your skin before you moisturize. You will probably use one moisturizer for your face and one for the rest of your body. Generally, heavy creams and ointments are better for parts of your body that are not your face, like your arms, legs or feet. Finally, know that you will probably have to try several moisturizers before you find one that works for you. Having a moisturizer that helps your skin look and feel its best is worth the effort.
Make an appointment with one of the board-certified dermatologists at Vanguard Dermatology, located in the greater New York City area. Vanguard offers a wide variety of medical and cosmetic dermatology services.