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Why Your Moisturizer Isn't Actually Doing Its Job

You slather it on each day and night, but your skin is still dry. Here's why.
Photo: Imaxtree

Photo: Imaxtree

No matter what the season, making sure our skin is on-point can be a struggle. Whether you're breaking out due to hormones or the sun is causing you to dry out, skin care is a round-the-clock job that can take up an entire shelf (if not more) of beauty products — no judgment here.

And, if you're anything like us, your patience often wears thin on the trial-run for those aforementioned products. If your face wash doesn't fulfill its promise of glowing skin within two weeks, you toss it aside. As for your new night cream or gentle moisturizer, if those dry or red patches don't clear up ASAP, that cream doesn't see the light of day again.

To help ease our frustrations, we recently spoke with Rafaella Giraudi, the international director of Orlane Paris, and Cecile Brun-Garin, the R&D manager for spa skin care brand IXXI, about why this might be. And as it turns out, many folks are stuck in the wrong routine for what their skin care needs actually are.

In a nutshell, most people's skin is dehydrated, leading to other unsatisfactory appearances, and they aren't using the right products to fix it. So, we had the experts help us break down exactly how we got to this point — what dehydrated skin is, and what to look for in a moisturizing product — plus, how to tell if you're using the wrong one. Read on for our foolproof guide to caring for your skin all year long.

Hydration and Your Skin

To take things back a step, we all learned in science class (if you were paying attention, that is) that our body is made up of 65-70 percent water. Our skin contains about 65 percent water, which it obtains through the blood's circulation, and then evaporates out about 100 to 300 grams each day — leading to the need to find more water elsewhere.

In general, dehydrated skin can be caused by multiple factors such as stress, your environment or simply being tired, but one thing to note is that oily skin can also be dehydrated. And of course, dehydration can lead to tiny wrinkles and the loss of suppleness and elasticity — which no one wants.

Key Factors to Look For In a Moisturizer

So, what do you actually need in your moisturizer to make sure it's doing its job: helping battle water loss? Brun-Garin helped to break it down for us, noting that every cosmetic should ideally have at least three of these five key factors.

  • Create a film on the skin's surface to limit water loss: Although this may sound weird (and like something a lot of us tend to avoid in moisturizers), as long as there isn't a "sticky" film, you want a product that uses an emollient agent like vegetable oils, waxes, butters or even esters from coconut to help limit water loss.
  • They contain humectant agents: Look for products that have vegetable glycerin or vegetable polyols which actually work like sponges, and allow the holding of water in the surface layers of the epidermis.
  • They contain raw materials from sugars: Brun-Garin said that this is key "because those raw materials as emulsifiers induce a wonderful architecture which holds water and delivers it after application." Other sugars, like glucose or hyaluronic acid, create a more deeply hydrating effect for the skin.
  • Faciliate water circulation: This is a rather new approach, where recently discovered little "canals" called aquaporins allow the water to circulate between the skin cells.
  • They contain essential fatty acids: Essential fatty acids like Omega 3,6 and 9, which are found in vegetable oils or butters, will also help to promote hydration.
Photo: Imaxtree

Photo: Imaxtree

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What Ingredients to Avoid

Both Giraudi and Brun-Garin agreed that you should avoid any moisturizers that use too many petroleum derivatives or silicones, which are occlusive and thus won't help any product to absorb into the skin.

Giraudi also noted that the trend towards lightweight moisturizers actually may not be helping your skin as much as you thought, because the lighter products tend to lack ceramides and lipids that dehydrated skin needs to work. "When the epidermis is aggressed and loses the natural lipidic content, it finds it more complicated to retain water," Giraudi told us. Therefore, if a moisturizer is too light on its lipophilic content, it may not be enough to get the job done.

Why Where You Live Matters

The environment that you live in, and how much (or how little) you choose to moisturize, will heavily influence your routine of choice. "In a very wet area, it is better to use cosmetics containing humectants agents and sugar, and not too oily of a texture. On the contrary, in cold and dry climates, consumers should use cosmetics offering a complete solution to dehydration with hygroscopic ingredients like sugars and humectants but also with noble fat raw materials like vegetable oils," Brun-Garin told us.

Photo: Imaxtree

Photo: Imaxtree

Your Skin Care Guide, Depending on Type

For the Minimalist With Oily Skin:
Considering that the minimalist prefers do very little (and will only have a couple of products on hand), both Brun-Garin and Giraudi recommend a good cleanser first — either opting for a micellar water or cleansing gel. Then, use just one great moisturizing product that has a light texture as your serum or day lotion, like IXXI Matt Balancing Care.

For the Product Hoarder With Oily Skin:
For the product lovers, wash your face with a cleansing foam or Astringent Purifying Lotion ($60), then use a moisturizing serum or mist (our personal favorite right now is IXXI Milky Hydrating Mist). Finish by layering on a day moisturizer that is lightweight, but don't go overboard (and don't skip this step even though your skin is oily — it still needs a lotion, just a lighter one). 

For the Minimalist With Combination Skin:
Start off your day with a cleanser that is lightweight to calm your combination skin. Finish off with a heavier duty cream that absorbs into the skin, such as Orlane's Hydro Mattifying Care ($110).

For the Product Hoarder With Combination Skin:
If you're a product junkie, Brun-Garin recommends cleansing your face with a lightweight foam or micellar water first, and then using a moisturizing serum or mist (again, the Milky Mist is a winner as it quickly spritzes moisture onto your skin). Then, use a day lotion with a light texture that will absorb quickly, such as the aforementioned IXXI Matt Balancing Care.

For the Minimalist With Dry Skin:
If you already struggle with dry skin and are worried that it also may be dehydrated, use an oil to wash your face as well. An oily balm, milk, or lotion cleanser will be your best bet to get the ultimate amount of moisture locked in, and then just use one day lotion with a richer texture such as IXXI Fine Daycare Emulsion.

For the Product Hoarder With Dry Skin:
For the hoarders in the group, Giraudi also recommended opting for a milk-based cleanser for optimum hydration. She also suggested using Orlane's Hydrating Mask ($95) twice a week (since you love some good product quality time anyway) and for a cream, using one with a rich texture such as B21 Extraordinaire ($120).