Updated: Sep 30, 2021
For the final step of this series, we will discuss moisturizing and what exactly this means. Almost everyone has at least a minimal routine that includes cleansing and moisturizing. I have always been a keep-it-simple kind of person who likes to wash my face in the shower. I never bought into all the fancy stuff - it just looked complicated, confusing, and well, Expensive. Anyway, I thought, what’s the big deal about moisturizers? Don’t our faces produce their own oil to keep our skin protected and healthy? The answer is yes….and no.
Sebum is the oil that is made in the sebaceous glands, deep below the surface of the skin. It is designed to create a barrier to prevent bacteria and other foreign materials from penetrating the skin, as well as maintain a healthy pH balance. When sebum production is in balance, additional moisturizer isn’t needed; however, using harsh cleansers that strip too much oil from the skin will cause sebum production to increase, sending way too much oil to the surface of the skin. Over-cleansing on a regular basis will result in an overabundance of sebum, as the skin struggles to protect vulnerable skin cells. More oil is pumped to the skin, which often leads to clogged pores, acne, and red, irritated skin.
To avoid this endless cycle, gentle cleansing (instead of scrubbing with detergent-based cleansers that strip oils from the skin) will allow some of the natural sebum to remain so that oil production is balanced. All skin, even oily skin, can benefit from the right type of moisturizer.
On the other side of the spectrum is dry, sensitive, and/or mature skin. Many things can cause the skin to be dry: certain medical conditions, not drinking enough water, overexposure to the sun, extreme cold, dry air, or wind, are some common ones. As we get older hormone production will decrease, resulting in the loss of oil and sweat glands, and reduced cell renewal. Dry skin is a very common problem associated with aging.
Somewhere in the middle, some lucky people have perfectly balanced oil production and skin pH. If you rarely have breakouts and your face is smooth and supple without using moisturizer, good for you! But as circumstances change, and the years go by, eventually you may need to re-evaluate your moisturizer needs.
Many natural botanical oils are very similar to naturally occurring sebum, and they make excellent barriers to protect skin from bacteria and hold moisture in the skin cells. Using oils to protect, soften, and condition the skin is technically not moisturizing. Only water can hydrate and moisturize skin cells. Lotions and most creams are made with a high percentage of water, depositing mostly water with a bit of oil, on the surface of the skin. This is only partially effective in hydrating and moisturizing because there are many layers of skin, not just the top layer, which needs to be hydrated. This is exactly why you can apply lotion to your skin and a few hours later you need to reapply.
When natural oils and serums are applied to the skin within three minutes of showering or bathing, the skin is hydrated from being immersed in water, and oil creates a barrier of longer lasting protection than watery lotions provide. Some botanical oils can be extremely nourishing to the skin, and come in a wide range of beneficial properties, as well as a range of viscosity – from very light to extremely emollient. Only a small amount of oil is needed compared to the amount of lotion used. In fact, using too much natural oil or face moisturizer is not good for your skin. A light application is best, so pores don’t become clogged with excess oils.
If it’s important to you to avoid synthetic chemical preservatives and fragrance, switching from a traditional moisturizer to a light plant-based oil or serum is a great way to simplify your beauty routine. A true moisturizer always contains water, which requires a robust (synthetic) preservative. Moisturizers, lotions, and creams actually contain a lot of water, as much as 85% of the ingredients, so do you really want to pay so much money for a little bottle of moisturizer or fancy cream that’s mostly water?
Starting with the lightest and ending with the heavier or more emollient ones, here are some of my favorites:
▪ Jojoba – the closest thing you’ll find to natural human sebum, it’s wonderfully light and absorbs quickly; for those with oily skin, this is a great option; for all skin types.
▪ Fractionated Coconut Oil – is processed to remove the long chain triglycerides, leaving the medium chain triglycerides; an absolutely saturated oil that has great stability and a very long shelf life; similar in its light viscosity to jojoba, it’s also known as MCT oil, and sometimes classified as not even an oil at all, as it’s frequently used in so called “oil free” cosmetic formulations.
▪ Argan Oil – also called Moroccan Oil, because the argan trees are native to the country of Morocco; it’s also considered a very light, extremely nourishing oil, argan oil became popular a few years ago and is used in high-end facial serums, hair products, and body lotions and creams.
▪ Olive Oil – though some consider this oil too heavy for a facial product, olive oil is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and polyphenols – it’s no surprise that women in Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece, where olive oil is plentiful, slather it all over their bodies and faces – and drink a shot glass of it every day. It’s highly absorbent, sinking readily into the skin, leaving it soft and oh-so-smooth.