Monthly Archives: January 2017

Tips to Find the Right Skin Moisturizer

Feel overwhelmed when you want to buy skin moisturizer for your dry skin? That’s no surprise, as there are dozens to choose from at the drugstore and hundreds more at high-end cosmetics and department stores — creams, lotions, ointments, some with sunscreen, others with an exfoliant. Choices range from the basic $1.50 jar of petroleum jelly to a $500 five-ounce tub of designer skin moisturizer. And all the options in between can make your head spin.

While choosing the right skin moisturizer may seem confusing, it’s actually very simple if you follow a few guidelines, says dermatologist Monica Halem, MD, of ColumbiaDoctors Eastside in New York City. Dr. Halem’s first rule of thumb? Don’t spend too much money.

How a Skin Moisturizer Works

Cleansers and moisturizers are the most important skin products, particularly for softening dry skin. A skin moisturizer works by sealing moisture into the outer layer of the skin and by pulling moisture from the inner layers of skin to the outer layer.

Key ingredients that seal in moisture are petrolatum, mineral oil, lanolin, and dimethicone. Glycerin, propylene glycol, proteins, urea, and vitamins help attract water into the outer layer of the skin.

Some skin moisturizers also contain an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which exfoliates dead skin, says Francesca Fusco, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and a spokeswoman for the Skin Cancer Foundation. AHAs are a good choice if you have very dry skin.

Finding the Skin Moisturizer For You

It may take some trial and error, Halem says, so be patient. Follow these guidelines as you shop and, if you’re not getting the results you want, try a new one the next time:

  • Note the first five ingredients. Look for common active ingredients, such as lanolin, glycerin, or petrolatum, Dr. Fusco says. Glycerin is less likely than lanolin to cause an allergic reaction, she says. She also recommends picking a moisturizer that’s made by a reputable company.
  • Go for added sunscreen. Protecting your skin from harmful sun damage is one of the best things you can do to keep your skin looking young, so buy a moisturizer with a sun protection factor of at least 30. You’ll have to do some searching, but more companies are offering face and body moisturizers with sunscreen, Halem says.
  • Make it skin-type appropriate. The skin on your face is thinner and more sensitive, so it’s a good idea to use a different moisturizer on your face than you do on your body, Fusco says and recommends buying one that’s labeled “non-comedogenic” because it won’t clog your pores. Of course, choose one that’s right for your skin type. If you know you have sensitive skin, it’s always a good idea to look for a moisturizer labeled hypoallergenic. If you have oily skin, go with a light, oil-free moisturizer. If you have dry skin, get something richer. And if you have combination skin, go with a lighter moisturizer for your whole face and dot drier areas with a heavier cream, Fusco says. Keep in mind that you may need a lighter lotion in the summer, and a cream or ointment in the winter.
  • Consider using a moisturizer with retinol before bed. Retinol is vitamin A for your skin, Halem says. It works by increasing the speed at which your skin cells turn over. You can find it over the counter or by prescription, but use it carefully as it may cause a skin irritation, red skin, or dry skin.

Relief by Prescription

If your skin is very dry, consider a prescription moisturizer. Prescription moisturizers contain the AHA lactic acid, which softens the top layer of your skin and can do a better job if over-the-counter moisturizers aren’t working for you, Fusco says. AHAs such as lactic acid and glycolic acid can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Tell your doctor if you experience burning, irritation, red skin, itching, or a rash.

Another prescription option is a barrier cream, which contains humectants that hold on to moisture longer, Fusco says. Barrier creams penetrate a little deeper than standard moisturizers, she adds.

When to Moisturize

Once you find the right product, moisturize every day and you’ll go a long way toward preventing dry skin and even camouflaging wrinkles. While a skin moisturizer can’t get rid of wrinkles — because wrinkles begin much deeper in the skin due to collagen loss — it can plump up the skin and minimize their appearance, Halem says.

Whichever moisturizer you choose, it will work better if you apply it to damp skin. Think about a sponge that’s dried out, Fusco says. If you put moisturizer on it, it won’t go anywhere. But if you soak the sponge in water and coat it with moisturizer, the sponge will absorb it. Your skin works the same way, happily lapping it up

Learn More About Skin and Beauty Glossary

Acne conglobata: Type of acne in which interconnected nodules are located beneath the surface of the skin.

Acne mechanica: Acne caused by exposure to heat, covered skin, pressure, or repetitive friction.

Acne vulgaris: The most common type of acne, associated with blackheads, whiteheads, papules, and pustules, commonly referred to as pimples or zits.

Actinic keratoses: Precancerous growths that can appear red, thick, and rough; usually found on sun-damaged skin.

Age spots: Flat, brownish patches on the skin caused by sun exposure and perhaps aging; also known as “liver spots.”

Alopecia: Unusual hair loss, most often on the scalp.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs): Exfoliating ingredients derived from fruit and milk sugars and used to help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and age spots.

Antioxidants: Vitamins A (including beta carotene), C, and E, thought to repair and protect skin cells by neutralizing damaging free radicals.

Atopic: When an antibody present in the skin makes someone more likely to experience allergic reactions.

Basal cell carcinoma: Type of skin cancer that forms at the base of the epidermis of the skin and usually does not spread to other parts of the body; associated with long-term overexposure to the sun.

Benzoyl peroxide: Topical acne treatment that kills acne-causing bacteria.

Blackhead: A clogged pore usually filled with hardened oil and dead skin cells; the tip is visible at the pore opening.

Blepharoplasty: Cosmetic procedure to remove excess fat and skin from around the eyes.

Chemical peel: Chemical solution applied to the skin to remove damaged outer layers.

Dermabrasion: Procedure in which a rotating brush is used to abrade, or remove, the outer surface of the skin.

Dermatitis: Inflammation of the skin.

Dermis: The middle layer of the skin.

Eczema: Inflammatory response in the skin that can lead to redness, itching, and scaling.

Epidermis: The outer layer of the skin.

Exfoliate: To slough off the outer layer of skin cells.

Follicle: A shaft in the skin through which hair grows.

Isotretinoin (Accutane and other brand names): Oral vitamin A-based medication used to treat severe acne.

Laser resurfacing: Laser procedure to remove signs of aging, including fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots.

Melanin: A chemical in the body that gives skin and hair their unique color.

Melanoma: Life-threatening form of skin cancer that usually develops in an existing mole.

Mole: Pigmented skin lesion also known as a nevus.

Noncomedogenic: A product not likely to clog pores and cause acne lesions.

Papule: Acne lesion that appears as a small, red bump on the skin.

Photo-aging: Skin damage that results from prolonged overexposure to the sun.

Phototherapy: Artificial ultraviolet (UV) radiation treatment for some skin diseases.

Plaque: Raised, but relatively flat, patch of skin.

Psoriasis: Skin condition characterized by red, raised, scaly patches.

Pustule: Inflamed acne lesion containing pus.

Retinoids: Derivatives of vitamin A used to treat a variety of skin conditions.

Rosacea: Skin condition characterized by prominent spider veins and sometimes swelling.

Sclerotherapy: Treatment that reduces the appearance of varicose veins and spider veins by injecting them with a special solution.

Sebaceous glands: Oil-producing glands in the skin that are attached to hair follicles.

Seborrheic dermatitis: Scalp condition associated with itching and flakiness (dandruff) that can also occur on the face.

Skin biopsy: Diagnostic procedure in which a portion of the skin is removed for examination in a laboratory.

Spider veins: Small reddish or purplish sunburst-shaped veins under the skin.

Squamous cell carcinoma: Type of skin cancer that forms in outer layers of the skin, capable of spreading to other parts of the body, and associated with long-term overexposure to the sun.

Subcutis: The layer of fat beneath the skin.

Telogen effluvium: Hair loss that is temporary, often related to stress, illness, or recent childbirth.

Topical: A product applied on the skin.

Tretinoin: Topical retinoid used to treat acne by unclogging pores; also used to lessen signs of photo-aging.

Ultraviolet light: The sun’s UVA and UVB rays that can cause both skin damage and skin cancers.

Urticaria: Raised reddish, itchy areas, also called hives.

Varicose veins: Large blood vessels that appear as blue bulges beneath the skin; may be associated with swelling, pain, and other symptoms.

Whitehead: Closed acne lesion caused by a clogged hair follicle

Tips to Use a Skin Exfoliant

Our skin is constantly renewing itself, growing new skin cells to replace the surface skin cells that grow old, die, and fall, or slough, off. Every minute of every day, between 30,000 and 40,000 dead skin cells flake away.

Factors like age and dry skin can mean that dead skin cells don’t fall away as easily as they should. When these cells build up, they can make the complexion look rough and pasty and can also contribute to the clogged pores that lead to adult acne. The regular yet careful use of a skin exfoliant can help slough off dead skin cells and uncover fresh, more youthful skin.

There are two main types of skin exfoliants: mechanical exfoliants and chemical exfoliants. Both are commonly available, and both have pros and cons regarding their use and the types of skin conditions for which they are most appropriate.

Mechanical Skin Exfoliants

Mechanical exfoliants work by sanding off dead skin cells using mildly abrasive substances. These skin exfoliants typically are facial scrubs, creamy cleansers with tiny, rough particles. As you gently massage the exfoliant over the surface of your face and skin, the friction works to loosen the old skin cells.

Mechanical skin exfoliants are readily available in drugstores and easy to use. They are particularly good for people with oily skin or acne, as they remove skin cells and debris that clog pores, but only if you don’t scrub too hard as this can cause further irritation.

However, mechanical exfoliants can be harsh. When you use them, you’re literally sanding away the outer layer of your skin. Some contain particles so jagged and rough that they could actually cut the skin. Because of this, dermatologists recommend using a gentle motion when using a skin exfoliant, and skipping them altogether if you have sensitive skin.

Chemical Skin Exfoliants

A chemical skin exfoliant uses gentle acids to dissolve whatever bonds are preventing the outer layer of dead skin cells from falling off your face and body. There are two main types of chemical skin exfoliants, those that include an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and those that include a beta hydroxy acid (BHA):

  • Alpha hydroxy acids are derived from different foods, from fruits, such as apples and grapes, to milk. Some of the most common AHAs to look for on product labels are glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, alpha-hydroxyoctanoic acid, and triple fruit acid. An alpha hydroxy acid is best for people with dry or thickened skin.
  • Beta hydroxy acids are the chemical cousins of alpha hydroxy acids, but are more oil-soluble and therefore better at exfoliating oily skin or acne-prone skin. The best known beta hydroxy acid is salicylic acid. On product labels, look for salicylate, sodium salicylate, beta hydroxybutanoic acid, or tropic acid.

Alpha hydroxy acid and beta hydroxy acid skin care products tend to be less harsh on the skin than mechanical exfoliants. They also help refresh the skin in ways a facial scrub can’t: They lower the skin’s pH level and help smooth small, shallow wrinkles, improving the look of skin that is dry or sun damaged.

Finding the right formulation for your skin involves some trial and error. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you should choose alpha hydroxy acid-based chemical exfoliants with an alpha hydroxy acid concentration of 10 percent or less and a pH of 3.5 or more. Beta hydroxy acid-based exfoliants containing salicylic acid are effective at levels of 1.5 to 2 percent. Using stronger solutions can cause skin irritation.

Another caveat: These types of exfoliants increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun for as long as a week after each use. Before going out, always apply sunscreen — a skin-saving recommendation for everyone.

How and When to Use Exfoliants

You should not use an exfoliant every day. Your skin needs time to regenerate its topmost layer, which exfoliation strips away. People with dry skin should only exfoliate once or twice a week, while those with oily skin can exfoliate two to four times a week. Stop using an exfoliant if you find your skin becoming irritated or developing a rash. Remember to moisturize your skin after exfoliating, to soothe it and keep it from drying out.