Apart from ageing, dry and cold weather, excessive exposure to the sun and chemicals in the air, constant exposure to air conditioning and heating and even make-up are all responsible for moisture depletion from the skin. This leads to dull and dehydrated skin, dryness, flaky and itchy skin, infections, and eczema.
Hence, it is important to keep our skin well-moisturised, as it performs many vital functions. The skin acts as a mechanical barrier to infections. It prevents micro-organisms and other substances from entering the body, prevents excessive water loss and regulates body temperature.
A moisturiser is an agent designed to make the topmost layer of the skin [stratum corneum] softer and more pliant by increasing its hydration. Moisturisers prevent and treat dry skin, protect sensitive skin, improve skin tone and texture.
On the most basic level, moisturisers hold water in the outermost layer of skin. They also act as a temporary barrier. Many moisturisers contain combination of humectants and emollients, as well as other ingredients. A large number of preparations are available, many of which are marketed as cosmetic and therapeutic moisturisers.
What do moisturisers contain?
Humectants [glycerine, urea, alpha hydroxy acids]: These absorb water from the air and hold moisture in the skin. Humectants act better at high humidity levels and are also useful in softening thickened or scaly skin.
Emollients [lanolin, mineral oil, petrolatum]: These ingredients fill spaces between the cells in the skin, helping replace lipids and thus smoothing and lubricating rough skin. Emollients are either oil- or water-based. Oil-based creams leave a slight residue on the skin and have more staying power than water-based creams. Water-based creams are easier to apply and don’t leave much of a residue and hence are meant for oily skin.
Fragrances: Most moisturisers include fragrances which give the product a pleasing odour and cover up the smell of other ingredients. However, one must understand that fragrances in skin care products are the most likely cause of skin irritations or contact allergies.
Preservatives: Any product that includes water and oil must contain one or more preservatives to help prevent bacterial contamination after the product is opened. Most products contain multiple preservatives. These ingredients can sometimes cause skin allergies or reactions.
Moisturisers may include other ingredients as well, such as minerals, plant extracts, sunscreens, antioxidants such as alpha lipoid acid, coenzyme Q10, grape seed extract, and vitamins A, C, E.
How to select the right moisturiser?
Skin type, age and whether you have specific conditions such as eczema, acne are some factors that go into selecting a moisturiser that’s best for you.
Normal skin. Select a water-based moisturiser that has a light, non-greasy feel to maintain natural moisture balance of your skin. This is because normal skin is neither too dry nor too oily. These moisturisers often contain oils such as cetyl alcohol, or silicone-derived ingredients.
Dry skin. Choose a heavy, oil-based moisturiser that contains urea or propylene glycol chemicals to keep your skin moist. For dry and cracked skin, oils are preferable. They have more staying power and are more effective in conserving moisture content of your skin.
Oily skin. Use a water-based product that is labelled ‘non-comedogenic’ [which means it won’t clog pores], as oily skin is prone to acne and breakouts. Even though it is oily, such skin still needs moisture, especially after use of creams.
Sensitive skin. Opt for a moisturiser that doesn’t contain allergens such as fragrances or dyes and is specifically designed for sensitive skin. This is because sensitive skin is more susceptible to skin irritations, redness, itching or rashes.
Mature skin. Prefer an oil-based moisturiser that contains petrolatum as the base, along with lactic acid or alpha hydroxy acids to keep your skin hydrated. As you age, the oil-producing glands become less active, which makes your skin dry. These ingredients help retain moisture and prevent flaky skin.
The correct way to use a moisturiser
- Choose a moisturiser according to your skin type.
- Apply moisturisers immediately after bathing. Pat your skin, wipe it dry, then apply the moisturiser immediately to help trap water in the surface cells.
- Make it a habit to moisturise your hands and feet as well. Although often ignored, your hands are more exposed to the elements, especially soaps and chemicals, than is any other part of your body.
- Don’t use heavy creams on your face unless you have excessive dryness. You can use heavy, oil-based creams on your legs, hands and feet because those areas tend to be drier than the face.
- If you have dry skin, moisturise at least twice a day, whereas those with oily or normal skin should moisturise once a day.
- Mix one medium-sized apple [grated] with one tablespoon lemon juice and two teaspoon honey. Apply this paste, wait for10 minutes, and then wash off with warm water. This mixture is a good moisturiser for oily, acne-prone skin.
- Mix honey, milk and any vegetable oil. This mixture is a good moisturiser for dry skin.
Apply this mask for 10 minutes, and wash off with cold water.
- Mix three tablespoons each honey and wheat germ oil and two tablespoon each glycerine and rose water. Place them all in glass bowl, whisk to combine, then store in a tightly capped bottle. This is a good anti-ageing moisturiser.
- Mix lemon or orange juice with olive oil. This is a time-tested moisturiser for soft and glowing skin.
- Mix ¾th cup of rose water, ¼th cup glycerine, one teaspoon of vinegar and ¼th teaspoon honey and keep it in a bottle. Use it regularly after cleansing.
- Glycerine and honey is a natural moisturiser for all skin. Mix these in the proportions of three tablespoons glycerine to one teaspoon honey for best results.
— Team CW
This was first published in the January 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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