SKIN SLEUTH SERIES BY DR.TWL EP 1 : THE SCIENCE BEHIND MOISTURISER FORMULATIONS
Hi guys this is Dr. TWL, your Skin Sleuth here. In this series, we will share the science behind skincare active ingredients. We’re going to shed light on how skincare active ingredients directly affect cell processes and how we can expect to see skin changes from these. The best moisturiser for dry skin is based on active ingredients that act on different layers of the skin. This is in addition to the different mechanisms involved to retain moisture in the epidermis and also prevent water loss to the environment via trans-epidermal water loss.
Science behind the best moisturiser for dry skin
I will share with you my top tips on identifying active ingredients and formulations which are beneficial for your skincare regimen. Hopefully, this will help you to customize a skincare regimen best suited for your needs. We’re going to start with the topic of moisturizers. Have you wondered what the best moisturiser for dry skin is? Let me first break down the science behind moisturizers. Moisturizers are best thought of as the glue that holds the skin cells together.
Ceramide: natural moisturisers
Did you know that our body naturally produces a type of moisturizer? We know this moisturiser as ceramide. You may have heard of this ingredient in several skincare active ingredients formulations, including anti-aging eye creams and night creams. Ceramide is actually the glue that holds your skin cells, the corneocytes together. This makes sure that your stratum corneum, the top layer of your skin, stays healthy and resilient to environmental damage and protects it from oxidative stress. This also includes external pollutants such as particulate matter like PM2.5 that can cause skin allergies, as well as microorganisms that can penetrate the skin otherwise and cause infections.
Before you decide what is the best type of moisturizer for your own skin type. You should know that your body also makes its own store of ceramides. Individuals who have eczema, a form of severe dry skin, actually have a ceramide deficiency because of a genetic defect. This is the gene filaggrin. There is a condition known as ichthyosis vulgaris which is characterized by fish scale-like lesions on one skin. Importantly, individuals with a family history of ichthyosis vulgaris must understand that this condition is transmitted via an autosomal dominant manner. This means that if your parents have it, you will have it as well and so will your siblings. This also means that you have a genetic deficiency in the filaggrin gene and also will be at risk of developing moderate to severe eczema.
Components of the best moisturiser for dry skin
The best moisturiser for dry skin should have a ceramide dominant formulation. In fact there is a gold standard: a prescription emollient device or PED. This term was coined by pediatric dermatologist L Eichenfield who described such a moisturizer formulation that helps to restore the skin’s natural lipid balance. On top of that, it also contains additional anti inflammatory antioxidants. This usually refers to botanicals that are over the counter and have pharmaceutical properties that help the skin to reduce inflammation tendencies. This is critical if you are on topical steroid treatment for dry skin or eczema. Using this type of moisturizers reduces your reliance on long-term topical steroid use. This is important because long-term steroid use can lead to a phenomenon known as tachyphylaxis. This is where your skin stops responding to effective topical steroids because of long term exposure.
We can analyze the best moisturiser for dry skin in the following ways. Firstly, there are categories of moisturizing ingredients such as occlusives which you should be aware of. Examples of occlusives include petroleum jelly, Vaseline, also known as mineral oil. These perform a very basic function of merely preventing evaporation. However, it can be problematic for individuals who are acne-prone, as this can lead to comedogenesis. Mineral oil can be used safely in cleansers, as these are wash-off products. In fact, it can be a very effective cleanser for dry skin. But in products such as leave-on moisturizers, it potentially can cause occlusion.
The way to think about occlusion is an analogy of letting skin breathe. It is much more scientific to think of the skin itself as a unique microenvironment that adjusts to changes in the surroundings- the temperature, humidity levels, as well as what is applied on to it. The mineral oil present in moisturizers can also sometimes lead to folliculitis. To illustrate, this is the inflammation of the hair follicles or pimples that can appear on all parts of your body other than your palms and soles which do not have hair follicles. This is especially so if you live in a summer climate or tropical climates like Singapore.
Humectants & natural moisturizing factors
The best moisturiser for dry skin as well as other skin types should also contain a variety of other moisturizing actives such as humectants. Humectants, are what prevents transepidermal water loss and retains a moisturizing layer on the surface of the skin. An example of this is glycerin. Glycerin is an established humectant, and it can be used in conjunction with other ingredients such as natural moisturizing factors. As its name suggests, these are naturally occuring moisturizing factors that are inherently found in your skin. These can be amino acids.
Hyaluronic acid, for example, is a very well known skincare active ingredient that is able to penetrate not just the superficial layers of your skin, which is the stratum corneum. It can also penetrate deeper. Hence, as a form of moisturizer, it is ideal. Superficially, it prevents water loss and also traps a layer of moisturize on your skin, allowing it to appear smooth and refined. It also penetrates deeper into the dermis where it encourages beneficial cell processes in this layer. This cell communication we call cell talk, is important in terms of repairing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a result of environmental factors such as pollution, ultraviolet exposure, as well as the process of aging. DNA damage is very important for us to fight oxidative stress. This is an important part of anti-aging of the skin.
It is critical to realize that there are also different molecular weights of hyaluronic acids. This is very relevant because the multi-weighted type of hyaluronic acid formulation is actually the most beneficial type of moisturizer for dry sensitive skin. This is because it can penetrate both the top and deeper layers for its ideal cell communication enhancing benefits.
Facial mist moisturisers
I feel it is also critical for one to appreciate how facial mist moisturisers work. If you’ve ever used a facial mist, I’m sure you know how refreshing it is to apply a cooling mist on your skin in the middle of the day. More than that, the science behind this – wet occlusion therapy, is a great way to enhance absorption of moisturizing creams and active ingredients.
Wet occlusion therapy is part of traditional dermatology therapy for eczema. It is the phenomenon whereby applying a wet layer on top of your creams can increase the absorption of active ingredients. It is also a great way to deliver moisture to your skin in the middle of the day when it can be inconvenient to apply creams over makeup. In Singapore where one is often in air conditioning, this means that there is a lot of water-loss to the environment when you’re indoors. This can lead to dehydrated skin that is also oily at the same time.
The benefits of facial mist moisturisers
The use of a facial mist can also incorporate additional active ingredients such as Polyglutamic acid and hyaluronic acid. We spoke about this earlier. But the key here is that in a facial mist you can deliver higher concentrations of these together with humectants such as glycerin, in a way that is also cosmetically comfortable in terms of texture. When you’re out and about in the daytime it is very uncomfortable and impractical to be applying moisturing creams. So facial mists are actually a great addition to your facial regimen. A lot of moisturizing mists are based on purifying deep sea water or thermal spring waters. These are mineral-rich and have been in selective dermatology research studies in terms of being able to calm atopic skin.
Moisturiser for reactive skin
Atopic skin is skin that is prone to eczema. It can also be helpful for those who suffer from reactive skin. Reactive skin is a layperson’s term describing skin that is prone to redness, flakiness, sensitivity. It can be due to eczema, or it can be due to other underlying conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis, perioral dermatitis or even rosacea. Using a facial mist is particularly relevant for those who wear makeup on their face. This is because it is impractical to apply moisturizers on top of makeup during the day.
For example, in a humid country like Singapore or during summertime, it is critical to remain hydrated. It is so much more important if you’re in an air-conditioned environment. The critical function of facial mists is that it is able to deliver moisturizers in a suitable form as opposed to a cream formula. Cream formulas are the most suitable for twice a day application routines. For individuals who suffer from oily, acne-prone skin may forego the cream application completely and opt purely for a facial mist.
Skincare actives in your facial mist
In terms of the best ingredients in a moisturizing mist, you should look out for sodium hyaluronate, the chemical name for hyaluronic acid, and also poly glutamic acid or PGA for short. Polyglutamic acid is in my opinion the best-kept secret for facial mists because it is actually far more efficient than hyaluronic acid. Absorbing four to five times more weight in water compared to hyaluronic acid. This means it’s able to provide a lot more moisturizing effects to the skin.
On top of that, because it is a very large molecule, it provides an instant optical illusory effect of having transparent, glassy, clear and radiant skin simply because of its chemical structure. When you apply it on your skin as a mist, whether over CC cream or bare skin, it immediately fills out lines and wrinkles and gives a smooth poreless look. In fact, it’s also working on the deeper levels, enhancing cell communication.
Submit your skincare questions
I hope you enjoyed your first episode with me in this skin sleuth series on moisturizers. Remember to hit the subscribe button to show your love and support if you like this content. Feel free to comment below on what your pressing skincare questions are, and I’ll be happy to answer them. Follow me on my instagram @drteowanlin where you can get updated on the latest skincare education tips. Have a great week ahead.
Dr. Teo Wan Lin is an accredited dermatologist practising at TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre. In this Skin Sleuth Series, she shares educational content relating to the active ingredients behind moisturizers.