Moisturizers Don’t Work for Everyone
New science underlines how to find one that actually soothes
Certain moisturizers might be doing more harm than good for people with sensitive skin, according to new research by dermatology professor Dr. Peter Elias and his team at the University of California, San Francisco.
Moisturizers are supposed to work by forming a film over the skin to trap water inside, by sponging water from the environment into the skin or by filling in the spaces between the cells in the skin surface with certain lipids. All of these are strategies meant to increase the skin’s water content.
For people who don’t have sensitive skin, chances are that any drugstore moisturizer will do a good job in soothing the skin and easing any itchiness. But for about half of Americans with sensitive skin — or conditions such as atopic dermatitis, rosacea, or eczema — standard moisturizer often provides only momentary relief. The automatic response to this discomfort is to reach for the bottle of moisturizer one more time.
To understand why some people with sensitive skin are trapped in this cycle, Elias and his team launched experiments to measure the long-term impact of moisturizers on what’s called the skin barrier — the outermost layer of the skin that’s meant to keep moisture in and irritants out.
“These lotions feel good for an hour or two. Their formulations are sometimes very nice, but after that, your skin feels drier than ever. Patients think it’s a problem with their skin, but the problem is with the technology.”
The skin barrier is comprised of three lipids: ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. “The first experiment we did was to knock out each of those lipids individually,” says Elias. “What we found was that they were all important because if any of those are missing, the barrier gets [damaged].”
The problem with many over-the-counter moisturizers, according to Elias, is that they either don’t have those three important lipids, they don’t contain them in an effective concentration, or they don’t contain them in the right proportion. The…