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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hydrating and Moisturizing Dry Skin...What's The Difference

The terms moisturizing and hydration are used interchangeably but they are not actually the same thing. Normally, when people have dry skin they go out and purchase a lotion and think little else about it. We reach for a cream or lotion to moisturize our dry skin without really thinking about what the purpose is for each of the ingredients. A bit more observation of what is on the store shelves brings us to the assortment of body butters and balms. The butters are advertised as containing the ultimate moisturizers for baby soft skin. So what is the difference and when is one better than the other?
Well, it all depends on the needs of the skin.

Our skin is the largest organ on our bodies. We don't often think about its function and importance until something isn't quite right. When you think about our internal bodies and the external environment, our skin is what supports and protects our entire system. Should the skin become out of balance, it doesn't take long for us to notice.

Our skin functions as both a physical and chemical barrier. It prevents the penetration from allergens and bacteria, prevents evaporation of water and helps maintain body temperature. Problems arise when there is a disruption in the skin barrier, resulting in trouble maintaining proper moisture balance.

Healthy skin is able to produce what are called lipid cells. The purpose of these cells is to trigger the skin's natural ability to protect from moisture loss. There is communication to the sebaceous glands to produce sebum which is our skin's natural oils. Should there be a disruption of this lipid barrier, the resulting loss of hydration leads to suffering from inflammation, dry flaky skin, itchiness, wrinkles and even trouble staying warm.

Environmental conditions such as cold, wind and sun can all upset the barrier function. Harsh soaps and cleansing products can strip the skins natural sebum. But there are situations when it goes beyond the occasional need for moisturizing due to such things as dry indoor heat during the winter. Autoimmune conditions can play havoc on the normal functioning of our bodies and being the skin is one of our organs, it is vulnerable as well to disruption. Eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and lupus are examples of such aggravating chronic conditions. Allergic reactions to medication can also cause detrimental issues with the skin.

The natural barrier of skin is the outermost layer of the epidermis called the stratum corneum. Its function is to prevent invasion from threats such as bacteria and allergens and prevent what is called trans epidermal water loss (TWEL). Healthy skin shouldn't need continuous help from moisturizers to prevent evaporation of water from the skin. There are multiple stacks of flattened cells called corneocytes which are layers and layers of dead cells with a surrounding oily water-repelling coating. This provides a barrier to the escape of water and protection from the environment. The mixture and structure of lipids in the spaces between the corneocytes allows the correct maintenance of the barrier.

The loss of the lipids that sit between the skin cells results in flaking, tightness, redness and itching. A damaged barrier affects nerve endings which lead to itching that goes beyond the typical satisfaction of scratching an itch and that's the end of it. This type of itching only gets more aggravated by scratching. It's almost like a domino affect where to start scratching starts a chain reaction where the itch pops up here, there and seemingly everywhere. Scratching to relieve the itch further injures the barrier causing redness and inflammation. Anyone who suffers from dry skin conditions knows very well by scratching there is increased risk of injury and infection but it is very difficult to break the itch, scratch, itch cycle.
Here is a very good article by dermatologist Dr. Gil Yosipovitch about how itch can be a disease in itself.

When skin is having trouble maintaining proper moisture, what it needs is first hydration and then creams, lotions or butters to hold in the moisture. Moisturizers are formulated to hold moisture in and hydrating products are to increase the water content of the skin which then helps moisturizers do their job. What are first needed are humectants, such as vegetable glycerin, aloe and honey. They absorb water from the air and bind it to the skin.

The most effective creams and lotions for dry skin combine the hydrating effects of water and the lubricating effects of oil(s). The term for trapping in the water to prevent evaporation is occlusion. Good occlusion ingredients to look for are cocoa butter, shea butter, mango butter, coconut oil and beeswax. The barrier created is called hydrophobic or "water hating" which reduces TEWL or transepidermal water loss.

Ingredients that soothe, lubricate and bring wonderful relief are those that help our skin feel smooth and supple. These are the emollients that help the skin repair the damaged lipid layer through the cell renewal process. They penetrate the outer layers of the stratum corneum. Plant oils, cocoa butter, lanolin and shea butter are good examples of emollients.

Jojoba oil is so close to our natural sebum that it is an excellent lubricant and help with barrier repair. Castor oil and coconut oil are very high in triglycerides which are very moisturizing.
Linoleic acid is one of the most significant lipids for barrier function. Oils high in linoleic acid include rosehip seed oil, hemp seed oil, pumpkin seed oil and evening primrose oil.
Lecithin is high in phospholipids which are a class of lipids. .
Olive oil and wheat germ oil are high in squaline.
Shea butter and mango butter are high in fatty acids and sterols.
Other wonderful plant oils for skin health include sweet almond, apricot, sunflower, avocado and grapeseed. High in antioxidants and vitamins, these are all considered nourishing "skin food"

Hydrating ingredients make the skin more receptive to absorbing all the beneficial ingredients in the moisturizer. A good lotion or cream has the benefit of both hydration and moisturizing. This is why for severely dry skin, to just slather on oil based salves, vaseline or butters, though it feels wonderful at first, you'll wonder where it goes since the skin seems to need frequent applications.That is because these barriers don't have the moisture that is normally in the skin to help them absorb.

The difference between a cream and a lotion is the oil to water ratio. Lotions are lighter due to the higher water content. Body butters may or may not also include liquid plant oils in addition to the solid butters such as shea, coconut oil and mango, but don't contain any water. Depending on the needs of the skin you can choose which is best for your situation. Once the skin is showing signs of improvement, you may only need a light lotion. Butters are rich and help skin feel baby soft, and does reduce loss of moisture, but won't directly moisturize. The best way to use moisturizers and body butters is to apply to dampened skin such as after a bath or shower. A layer of water on the skin prior to applying the moisturizer or butter is ideal.

A healthy skin is our first impression to the world so do what you can so you glow!

Meadow Muffin Gardens