The Most Effective Moisturizing Ingredients
Over-the-counter skin-care products can help soothe dry skin. Here’s how to find the right one for you.
As you may know, dry skin results primarily from low moisture levels on the surface of the skin, or epidermis. You can rehydrate by using skin-care products that work to increase the amount of water your skin retains.
The Best Moisturizers
The most effective way to moisturize your skin is to use a product that contains occlusive, humectant, or emollient ingredients. Occlusives, which include dimethicone, petrolatum, paraffin, and lanolin, form a barrier on the epidermis, preventing water from being lost when the skin is exposed to dry air or wind. Humectants, such as glycerin, sorbitol, sodium hyaluronate, urea, propylene glycol, alpha hydroxy acids, and sugars, attract water into the skin cells, causing the skin surface to swell very slightly — thus temporarily making it appear smoother and free of wrinkles. Emollients fill the spaces between rough or peeling skin cells, smoothing the surface of the skin. Lanolin, mineral oil, and petrolatum are occlusive agents that also serve as emollients.
Common Allergens in Skin Care Products
Fragrances are the most likely explanation for allergies to topical creams and lotions, says Dr. Ashinoff. If you have sensitive skin, avoid the following ingredients, which account for 90 percent of fragrance allergies: isoeugenol, eugenol, cinnamic aldehyde, cinnamic alcohol, hydroxycitronellal, geraniol, amyl cinnamic aldehyde, oak moss absolute, and balsam of Peru. Plus, “antioxidants like vitamin E can occasionally cause allergic contact dermatitis in people with sensitive skin,” Ashinoff says.
When and How to Apply Moisturizer
With the wide array of effective moisturizers on the market, how do you pick the best one for you? “Select a moisturizer based on personal factors such as smell, consistency, effectiveness, and price,” recommends Conway Huang, MD, associate professor of Dermatologic Surgery and Cutaneous Laser Surgery at the University of Alabama.
Both oil- and water-based products can be effective, but the one you choose depends on personal preference. “Oil-based moisturizers tend to be greasier but have the capacity to stay on the skin better,” explains Dr. Levine. “Water-based moisturizers feel better on the skin but don’t stay on as well.”
As for when and how to use a moisturizer, dermatologists recommend applying a thin coating — particularly after bathing, showering, or swimming — to trap water in the skin. Pat dry to keep skin damp — don’t vigorously towel dry or you’ll remove the water from your skin before it can be sealed in. Repeat the application twice daily or when your skin is itchy, especially during the winter months, when wind, cold, and indoor heating dry your skin out the most.