Dewy Epidermis: Selecting the Right Moisturizer for Your Client's Skin Type

This article excerpted from Skin Inc.'s expert advice column reminds us of how the different functions of moisture ingredients can work well together in different combinations to help your client find the right moisturizing product.


Your client says, "My skin is so dry! I need the richest moisturizer you have!" But will the richest moisturizer produce the best result? Why is your client's skin so dry? Using too many exfoliating agents? Is it seasonal? Or genetic?

Once you've considered the answers to those questions, you'll likely have others when determining which moisturizer is best for your client. Does your client have mature, pore-less skin that is not producing enough protective sebum? Do they have clogged and acne-prone skin with a flaky dehydrated surface? Or, do they have obviously sun-damaged and wrinkled skin with a lack of elasticity. To get answers, let's talk about the types of dryness and get specific about ingredients.

In normal skin, sebum coats the outside of the epidermis and is the outermost layer of protection against transepidermal water loss (TEWL). This protection prevents dehydration from the surface of the skin.

Alipidic (oil-dry) skin does not produce enough sebum. Alipidic skin is identified during skin analysis by the lack of visible pores or extremely small pores. This characteristic is reflective of the lack of sebum production and can be genetic or related to skin aging. This lack of sebum allows moisture to excape easily from the skin resulting in dehydration. This skin needs both emollient protection and water moisture.

Dehydration (water-dryness) can occur in dry or oily skin. It can even occur in blemish-prone skin. The skin becomes dry due to overuse of drying skin care products or exfoliants, including certain acne drugs. The skin may feel tight or appear flaky, but the skin needs water, not oil. In most cases, it overproduces oil.

Sun-damaged and aging skin often suffers from impaired barrier function. The barrier function is a system of lipids (fats) that fill the spaces between epidermal cells. They are sometimes referred to as interstitial lipids or intercellular cement, since the sort of fill the spaces between cells-similar to mortar in a brick wall. These lipids are responsible for keeping moisture in the skin and blocking irritants from entering the skin. These lipids are different from sebum in that they are produced during the cell renewal process. As skin ages, the cell renewal cycle slows and the skin does not produce as many barrier lipids as when it was younger. This creates "gaps" in the "mortar", allowing moisture to escape from the inner skin. Sun-damaged skin often suffers from damage that results in deficient barrier lipids and impaired function.


Moisturizers can contain emollient-protective ingredients like oils, waxes or petrolatum that coat the skin and prevent evaporation. Examples are shea butter, natural oils, fatty esters, silicones, or waxes. this type of moisturizer is helpful for alipidic skin, as the emollients lying on top of the skin block moisture from escaping.

Hydrating moisturizers contain hydration-attracting ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or sodium PCA that attract water like a magnet and bind it to the skin surface. They are not oils - they are humectants, which pull water from the atmosphere (and the product) and attach it to the skin.

Ceramides are lipid ingredients that go between the cells and patch the mortar. Ceramides fill the spaces between skin cells and trap moisture.

The Right Product for Your Client's Issues

Always carefully analyze your client's specific condition to recommend the perfect moisturizer for their individual needs. All three types of moisture ingredients - humectants, ceramides and emollients - are often mixed, as they all have different functions and work well together in different concentrations.

For alipidic skin, humectants are commonly blended with oils. They attract the water and the emollients seal it into the skin surface. A common combination would be a lotion or cream with shea butter combined with hyaluronic acid or sodium hyaluronate.

In oily or blemish prone skin that is also dehydrated, low amounts of non-comedogenic lightweight emollients - like cyclopentasiloxane (a non-clogging silicone derivative) are combined with humectants glycerin and sodium PCA, which act as water magnets. This adds water to the skin without exposing the clog-prone skin to clogging oils.

In sun-damaged or aging skin, a combination of ceramides, humectants, and emollients infuse the interstitial spaces with ceramide to hold moisture, which is attracted by hyaluronic acid (humectant) and sealed on the top of the skin by natural oils or shea butter. Alpha hydroxy acids are also great for sun-damaged skin, as they increase cell renewal, which, in turn, increases the client's own lipid production.

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