“Moisturize Your Skin”– What does that really mean?

skin-care-karen-hodgesWhat do you really need for your skin if it’s dry, cracked, flaky or itchy—all signs of dehydration?Beware of lotions touting the label of “moisturizing” when the ingredients listed don’t include truly moisturizing qualities.

Dry, cracked skin = de”hy”drated = lack of hydrogen = lack of water.  Our skin, the body’s largest organ is about 70% water (plus 25% proteins, 5% fats). The lack of water in the skin is both internal – the water intake is insufficient and/or the body is not properly processing the water taken in AND external – the water in our skin is evaporating faster than it is being replenished.

Environmental factors can result in loss of water. Obviously wind chapping, chaffing, sun damage, lack of humidity in the air can all cause water to wick out of the skin. Some not-so-obvious things in our environment can also affect our skin’s moisture content: “Natural” fibers such as cotton, bamboo, etc. are all highly absorbent and can wick moisture from our skin. Our clothing and the fabrics we come into skin contact with all pull moisture; some other examples are berber rugs, upholstery and bedding. The body is a complete, closed system—antihistamines and decongestants can’t be targeted at only one body part. The whole body is affected by medications, even the skin.

Another surprising cause of dehydration is over-washing. “What? I wash in water, how could that be true?” you say. When washing, especially with soaps and detergents, the lipids (body-made natural oils that prevent evaporation) are stripped away, allowing moisture—water—to wick out of the skin. In addition to “degreasing” our skin, soaps and detergents also deposit various chemicals depending on their ingredient deck, adding to the irritation of your skin.  And they also change the pH of our skin, making it vulnerable to various conditions that normally balanced skin would be impervious to.

3 steps to reconditioning dry, cracked skin:

Exfoliate – gently removing the dead, desiccated skin cells that linger on the surface is beneficial before applying moisturizer. These cells can’t use the moisture, and they only block off the cells that can. Gentle is a key word—no one ever needs to be stripped raw. This is an especially clear case of “more is not better!”

Rehydrate – add the “water” back using an excellent water-based lotion or cream. (Creams generally have thickeners in them and are intended to create an occlusive barrier against moisture loss—great for dry, cracked heels!) Watch out for unnecessary ingredients such as dyes, perfumes, mineral oils, things that end in “one” (dimethicone, e.g.) high on the ingredient list. These things don’t add any value to the skin—they are “slip and smell” factors, only, and can actually be more irritating than anything.

Protect – a good physically blocking SPF utilizing ground minerals such as zinc are always a good idea. Botanical oils and fats are good to block moisture loss, especially if your own lipid production has fallen behind (or is inadequate due to over-washing.) Look for ingredients that sound like they might be good to eat—fruit and vegetable oils, nut oils (barring any allergies) and water, of course, are the best things for your skin.

Summary

To “moisturize your skin” means adding moisture – water. Increasing your water intake as well as helping your skin maintain its water content through application of water-based moisture lotions and a judicious use of botanical oils to lock them in is the way to bring the skin back into a healthy balance.

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