Monthly Archives: March 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.

About Checkup Winter Skin

What are the signs?

The telltale symptoms of dry skin are easy to spot: Skin just generally feels drier and tighter. Other signs may include roughness, itching, severe redness, flaking and scaling. Sometimes pores become less visible or skin may look dull. In severe cases, skin may crack and bleed, especially on the hands and fingertips.

Why does it happen?

Sun exposure or cold, dry air can cause skin to become dehydrated. Dry skin is more common in the winter because the air contains less humidity. It can also be genetic or hereditary, or a natural effect of aging.

What are your options?

  • Over-the-counter lotions, such as Eucerin and Curél, can relieve dryness and flaking. Or try a body cream that contains oil to help seal in moisture. Look for fragrance-free products with alpha hydroxy acids, which gently exfoliate to allow more water and moisture into the skin.
  • Avoid antibacterial and deodorant soaps, which can be harsh and drying. Instead, use a gentle cleanser, such as Dove or Aveeno, or a mild shower gel with added moisturizers.
  • Don’t take extremely hot baths, or shower or soak in the tub for more than 10 minutes. Doing so breaks down your skin’s natural protective oils, which keep it soft and smooth.
  • Use a humidifier during the winter. Central heating and space heaters can dry out the air in your home.
  • Choose natural, breathable fabrics, such as cotton and silk, for your bedding and innermost layer of clothing.
  • Drink plenty of water and other liquids to keep skin hydrated from the inside out. Omega-3s (essential fatty acids found in foods such as salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, soybeans and broccoli) can also help keep skin supple.

When should you worry?

See a dermatologist if dryness and itching keep you awake at night, if OTC lotions aren’t working, if you have open sores or large areas of scaling or peeling skin, or if you develop an infection from scratching. You could have a more serious condition such as eczema, psoriasis or another skin disorder.

Did you know?

  • Although everyone’s skin changes with age, a man’s skin tends to stay moist longer. That’s because a woman’s skin becomes much drier after menopause.
  • The best time to apply lotion is immediately after a shower or bath, when skin is still damp.
  • Since dry skin is extra-sensitive, it’s important protect it from the sun, especially if it’s snowing (snow can reflect as much as 80 percent of the sun’s rays). Apply SPF 15 or higher every day to your face, neck and ears.

How to Combining Moisturizers With Antioxidants

Who doesn’t love a moisturizer with a luxurious feel? And wouldn’t it be great if it also made your skin look clearer or younger? That’s the promise of cosmeceuticals.

“Cosmeceuticals try to bridge the gap between what you can get at the cosmetic counter and what you can get at a pharmacy,” says Suzan Obagi, MD, president of the Cosmetic Surgery Foundation and associate professor of dermatology and director of the Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

Prescription medications are designed to work very effectively, but often they don’t have the elegance or feel of over-the-counter moisturizers. They’re also not typically tailored to different skin types, Dr. Obagi says. But cosmeceuticals are good quality products that effectively make your skin look younger while being tailored for dry, oily, or combination skin.

Here are some common ingredients in cosmeceuticals and what you can expect from them.

Hydroxy Acids

Moisturizers that contain hydroxy acids, such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), help to exfoliate the outer layer of dead skin cells, Obagi says.

The most common AHAs are glycolic and lactic acid, but others include citric acid, hydroxycaprylic acid, and hydroxycapric acid. Salicylic acid is the most commonly available BHA, adds Obagi. Some cosmeceuticals combine both AHAs and BHAs.

You can find these types of cosmeceuticals at the drugstore. Obagi suggests choosing a brand that has a large research and development department to back up the quality of the product, such as Neutrogena, Revlon, Aveeno, and Oil of Olay.

  • Pros: Hydroxy acids help keep the surface of skin smooth and unclog pores, which helps improve acne. And when you use a moisturizer with a hydroxy acid in the morning, it enables other products you put on throughout the day, such as anti-aging creams and serums, to better penetrate your skin, Obagi says. Salicylic acid, in particular, is very good at penetrating the skin and improving acne.
  • Cons: AHAs can be irritating because they’re more acidic than salicylic acid, Obagi explains. For that reason, you may experience stinging when you use them. People who have rosacea tend to do better with salicylic acid, she adds. Hydroxy acids also make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it’s important to wear sunscreen if you’re using this cosmeceutical. People who have photosensitive disorders such as lupus should avoid hydroxy acids altogether, Obagi says.

Antioxidants and Vitamins

There are a host of moisturizers on the market with added vitamins and antioxidants. Antioxidants help your skin by counteracting the effect of free radicals, which cause inflammation and can lead to prematurely aging skin and skin cancer. These products may contain C, D, E, and B-complex vitamins.

  • Pros: Vitamin C serum is part of a good anti-aging regimen and can effectively prevent wrinkles and age spots. However, Obagi recommends buying a serum sold in your dermatologist’s office because less expensive drugstore brands may not work as well.
  • Cons: Vitamin C is the only vitamin that’s known to benefit the skin when it’s applied topically, Obagi says, so it’s not necessary to buy other moisturizers with vitamins or antioxidants. It’s better to get those antioxidant vitamins in your diet and through supplements. In addition, vitamin E is a known allergen, so there is a risk of an allergic reaction if you use a product that contains it, she says.

Retinoids

Retinoids, which are derivatives of vitamin A, have been shown to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, smooth out the skin, and help to fade age spots.

  • Pros: The prescription formula based on the retinoid called tretinoin (Retin-A) is one of the best anti-aging regimens you can follow, Obagi says. However, tretinoin is only available by prescription and isn’t available as a cosmeceutical.
  • Cons: True cosmeceuticals that contain retinoids aren’t as effective as the prescription drug, Obagi says. If you’re looking for help with anti-aging, this is one cosmeceutical to leave on the shelf in favor of the prescription.

Peptides

Copper peptides, which are building blocks for cell renewal, are a new trend in cosmeceuticals. They’re touted as a powerful anti-aging ingredient that can help your skin produce more collagen, making it look younger and plumper.

  • Pros: Peptides have more of an allure because they promise what other products don’t, Obagi says.
  • Cons: However, there’s no research that has shown that peptides work. “The problem is that skin is a good barrier,” Obagi says so the copper peptides in an expensive cream may not even be able to penetrate the surface.

The good news: Cosmeceuticals, such as the ones that contain hydroxy acids and vitamin C, are great choices for your skin, Obagi says. Keep in mind that moisturizers don’t perform miracles, but tried and true cosmeceuticals can offer the benefits of healthier, younger-looking skin with the feel of a luxurious cream.

Method 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.