How to Apply Moisturizers

How do you apply moisturizers? This might sound silly, but understanding proper moisturizing is far from common knowledge, and is likely to have greater consequences than which new product you choose to use...

Dry skin is a very common skin concern, and one that can be very frustrating. When moisture at the surface of the skin is lost, the skin dries, becomes itchy, red, irritated, and if it continues to lose more moisture, the skin will develop painful cracks and fissures. Skin moisture depends on skin type, which is largely determined genetically, and on environmental factors like humidity and temperature (think about how your skin tends to be more dry during the winter). Skin conditions like eczema also worsen dry skin significantly, as will aging-after the age of 35, most people's skin become noticeably drier. The good news is that proper use of moisturizers can help alleviate this very common problem.

How does a moisturizer work?

Moisturizers help attract moisture to the surface of the skin where moisture is most needed, and furthermore, help retain that moisture. The challenge is keeping the moisture. Moisturizers have three main active ingredients that help increase moisture levels in the skin.

Humectants attract water from lower layers of the skin to the surface. It also draws moisture from the air. Some examples of humectants are lactic acid and glycerin.

Occlusive agents reduce water that is lost to evaporation. Petrolatum and mineral oil are some examples of occlusive agents used in moisturizers.

Emollients help smooth out the skin at the surface of the skin and help make the skin feel supple. Shea butter and cyclomethicone are some examples of emollients.

Moisturizers don't seem to work well for me though...is my skin simply too dry or am I using the wrong moisturizers?

When and how you apply moisturizers matters-probably more than which moisturizer you use, provided that you are using quality products.

It may be counterintuitive, but in general, moisture is lost and not gained when you wash. The reason that the skin often feels dry shortly after a hot bath is that a bath strips your skin of moisture protecting oil, and moisture in the skin evaporates faster leaving the skin at a net loss for moisture and feeling dry afterwards.

Whenever you wash, gently pat the skin dry. Don't vigorously rub with a dry towel, and try to leave a bit of moisture left on the skin. Apply a nice thick moisturizer on the still slightly damp skin, sealing in that moisture. Repeat this after every shower or hand-wash and you will see the difference in a few days.

What else can I do to help my dry skin?

  • Avoid hot showers or baths. They might feel good temporarily, but hot water strips the skin of natural oils which help keep the skin retain moisture. This is largely the reason that people feel dried out shortly after a hot bath or shower. A 5 to 10 minute shower once a day using warm water should suffice.
  • Humidify your indoor environment. Indoor heating is a common problem during the winter. It's bad enough that the air is cold and dry outside, but indoor heating strips the indoor environment of humidity, making it tough on dry skin both indoors and outdoors. A humidifier can help to combat this to a certain extent.
  • Use sun protection. We should all know about the effects of UV exposure-increased skin cancer risk, pre-mature aging symptoms like wrinkles and fine lines, and rough skin--but dry skin is also another big one.
  • Be easy on the cleansing. Avoid harsh soaps. Antibacterial soaps, fragrances, and deodorants can be harsh on the skin, aggravating dryness. Toners, peels, and alcohol-based astringents can all be harsh on the skin.

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