To moisturise or not? All your moisturiser questions solved here.
Your skin is your shield.
It’s an amazing organ that adapts and renews itself constantly to help stay protected from everything life has to throw at you. We’ve honed in on various aspects of the skin in previous LifeJournals but one of the most commonly promoted things to do when it comes to your skin is to “moisturise”.
The question is, what does that actually mean and is it worth it?
Get under the skin
Without getting bogged down in too much of the ingredient technology (you can read our journal on tech we use to moisturise your skin here), we first need to set the scene and reiterate the biological roles the skin has to play.
Broadly speaking this is broken down into seven key roles:
- Physical barrier function to prevent entry or exit of certain matter.
- Protective function against biological, physical and chemical aggressors.
- Immunological function to prepare a defence against foreign substances.
- Secretory function to regulate sebum, sweat and other lipids.
- Thermoregulatory function to regulate temperature.
- Sensitivity function to communicate information about our immediate environment.
- Absorption function to bring substances into the bloodstream when demanded.
A lot going on.
To achieve these functions your skin is basically composed of three key layers above the muscle. These three layers are (1) the epidermis, (2) the dermis, and (3) the hypodermis / subcutaneous layer of fat and connective tissue. Collectively known as the extracellular matrix, these three layers provide a network that gives structural support to cells.
Healthy skin is able to maintain an ideal “balance” so that all of the skin’s functions can ensure protection and comfort in equal measure.
The issue of course is that in reality there are a number of environmental impacts and exposures that strain our skin to the point that something falls down and the balance is disrupted.
I didn’t ask for a biology lesson
Fair enough. So let’s go back to moisturisation.
As we all know, the building block for life is water. Indeed, when it comes to the skin, healthy cells enable healthy skin. Cells are almost entirely made up of water so too much of a reduction in moisture content compromises a cell’s performance. The most common manifestation of this imbalance is dry skin which is the leading cause of skin discomfort. Outside of cracks and fissures, skin dryness is not really a medical issue – it’s more one of discomfort (skin can become sore, tender to the touch or itchy).
We could talk about loads of reasons for skin dryness but the biggest external aggressor is all around us – it’s the air we breathe. Dry air moving over skin sucks moisture from the epidermis. This process by which moisture is lost to the air around us is referred to as Transepidermal Water Loss. That’s why dry skin is particularly prevalent in winter where cold dry air actually leeches the moisture from skin cells. The same can be said of air-conditioning of course.
We seem to be back in the classroom?!
Well, we always think first principles is the reason you’re here. But I’m getting to the point, I promise…
The answer to water loss from the skin is to create a barrier or shield that prevents the process happening and this is where moisturisers come into play.
There are two types of moisturiser.
This is where highly “occlusive” ingredients (think Petrolatum e.g. Vaseline) form a barrier on the skin to help prevent the evaporation of water from the skin’s surface. The word ‘occlusive’ means to close, block or obstruct so it makes sense!
A good moisturiser will have ingredients that help to impart moisture into the skin and help with other aspects of overall skin health, but the reality is that a moisturiser’s main weapon is actually to prevent naturally occurring moisture getting out. The challenge is to enable this barrier function against moisture loss whilst not disabling the ability of your skin to breathe.
Silicones and petrolatum, for example, are excellent barrier products (bear in mind one of their biggest uses is as industrial sealants!) but they are also known to block gases (including air) which can lead to other skin issues.
“Humectant” ingredients (like Glycerin) are good at pulling moisture into the skin from the air around us and also up from layers below the epidermis. Sorry to treat this like a school essay but the work ‘humectant’ means to retain or preserve moisture.
The slight problem with humectant moisturisers is that, in reality, when the air around us is dry this can have a negligible impact. And skin tends to be dry when the air around it is dry too!
That’s where choosing the right moisturiser which is compatible with your skin, is based on getting a good combination of ingredients that help to optimise your skin to be its best.
The LifeJacket view
One of the most important things you can do to help your skin is to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Sounds boring to say, but keeping the skin moisturised from ‘the inside’ is going to make the biggest difference.
Moisturisers support this by creating a shield that either blocks water going out (occlusives) or pulls water in (humectants). We feel we’ve created the perfect balance in our moisturisers using ingredient technology that means you’re not putting a thick industrial sealant all over your skin while creating the barrier I spoke about AND protecting you from things like UV light and pollutants.
Using a daily moisturiser can make a difference to how your skin feels and looks. And therefore, how you feel, personally. It’s not difficult to throw it on in the morning before your day starts so if you don’t already, why not give it a go?
Speak again soon.