First, a lesson in how skin works...
There are three layers: the epidermis on the outside, the dermis in the middle, and the hypodermis underneath. Blood vessels deliver moisture to the dermis, which then travels up through the epidermis and evaporates. This is called transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and if there is too much TEWL going on, your skin will dry out. Moisturizing is a misnomer. Water is the only thing that can hydrate skin. The job of moisturizers is to trap that water in, deliver water to the epidermis, or do a little of both.
Occlusives are the OG moisturizers: ingredients that are so thick and impenetrable water cannot pass through them. Petroleum jelly is incredibly successful at this, cutting TEWL upwards of 98%. The downside with wearing petroleum jelly on your face is that if feels like petroleum jelly on your face.
That’s where emollients comes in. They have a similar chemical structure as occlusives (long chains of carbon atoms) and work to block water from evaporating, but their technique is a little different. The epidermis is constructed like a brick wall, with dead skin cells playing the bricks and fatty lipids and proteins playing the mortar. When temperatures drop, those proteins break down. Emollients penetrate the epidermis and fill in the holes those proteins leave, keeping TEWL under control.
Bonus: Filling in those holes also makes your skin feel soft and smooth.
Humectants are the exact opposite. Hydroxyl groups in their chemical structure attract water, so as it soaks into the epidermis, the young, moist cells hanging out in the dermis travel towards the surface of the skin. Humectants also stimulate the production of ceramides, waxy molecules in our skin that also reduce TEWL.
During the day, it’s important to wear a good sunscreen.
Experts prefer moisturizers with an SPF rating between 30 and 50, and broad spectrum protection. The sun protection factor (SPF) in moisturizers is what protects you from UVB rays. The number denotes how much longer it takes skin to sunburn than when unprotected: 30 times longer for SPF 30, 50 times longer for SPF 50, and so on. Don’t be fooled by the numbers, though. At their strongest, the difference in how much UVB radiation they block is around 1 percentage point, with SPF 30 blocking about 97 percent of UVB rays and SPF 50 blocking 98 percent. In fact, the FDA has proposed capping SPF at 50, arguing that any number higher is misleading to consumers who might believe there is such a thing as sunscreen that can block 100 percent of UVB rays. (There’s not.)
Broad spectrum sunscreen blocks both UVB rays — the kind that cause sunburns — and UVA rays, which penetrate the skin deeper and are closely linked to skin cancer. The real key to sunscreen, however, is coverage. Dr. Joshua Zeichner, an assistant professor in the dermatology department at Mt. Sinai Medical Center recommends a nickel-size dollop for a full face treatment along with regular reapplication.
Mineral sunscreens are the safest bet.
Sunscreens are divided into two categories: chemical and mineral. Mineral sunscreens are physical UV blockers — meaning they reflect UV rays so they can’t penetrate the skin — made from zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide. Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays and then release that energy in a harmless way. There are a lot of chemical sunscreens, but six are used the most: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate.
Both chemical and mineral versions work well, but in chemical sunscreens the risk for causing an allergic reaction or aggravating sensitive skin is heightened. Popular consumer watchdog group EWG says it’s riskier than that: It stresses that some chemical sunscreens can penetrate the skin and reach living tissue, causing hormone disruption.
Both mineral and chemical sunscreen are effective UV blockers. If you have sensitive skin, stick to physical-blocker sunscreens, as some chemical blockers can cause skin irritation.
- Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Assistant Professor in the Dermatology Department at Mt. Sinai Medical Center
How To Take Action
Evaluate your skin type.
Figuring out your skin type can be tricky. Often, what we are positive to be true — that we’re oily, dry, or somewhere in between — is actually a result of the products we use. Flaky skin can appear with too much exfoliation; greasy skin may actually be residue from a too-rich moisturizer. That being said, there are some earmarks of different skin types.
If you are oily, you will have large pores all over and your face will get shiny throughout the day. Pore size is important here: If you’re greasy but your pores are small, you may just be using the wrong moisturizer.
Combination skin has large pores across the forehead, chin, and nose, and that T-zone gets oily throughout the day. If your T-zone is only a little oily, you probably have normal skin.
When your skin never breaks out and is tight, rough, and flaky, it’s dry. Dry skin is different than dehydrated skin though.
Like aesthetician Kerry Benjamin explains, dry skin is a result of low levels of oil, which is what skin needs to trap moisture. It needs an emollient. Dehydrated skin still produces oil, but it’s lacking moisture. What’s the answer? You got this: humectants.
Don’t be fooled by the packaging.
There’s nothing wrong with appreciating good design and a beautiful box. Just don’t overlook some of the littler guys with less showmanship — or even big names that de-prioritize their packaging. All brands operate on some sort of budget, and skimping on custom components is a good way to funnel more investment into creating a better moisturizer. Fresh Black Tea Age-Delay Cream, is a perfect example: a delicious product (with a price tag to match) in packaging that looks basic even by drugstore standards.
I appreciate skincare and cosmetics brands that use stock components. It shows me they’re putting their money into quality, efficacious ingredients, and I’m not paying for a name and some packaging. The same goes for smaller quantities of product: the better and more refined the ingredients, the less you need to get the results you want. I don’t like filler ingredients for the sake of fill weight.
- Michele Lottermoser, VP Product Development at Julep Beauty
Try some samples.
Scared of spending money on something you’re not sure will work for your skin? Head to your nearest beauty counter and ask for samples of the moisturizers you’re most interested in. It’s the best way to experiment — and they are the perfect addition to your carry-on bag
Want to find out more about moisturizers and check out the best face moisturizers on the market? Reviews.com ran a massive survey with over 200 moisturizers, consulted with dermatologists and industry experts and found which ones are definitely worth your time and your money.
Check out their full post here and discover more about skin care so that you can get exactly what your skin needs. After all healthy skin is the basis for every look.