Unlike reptiles, who need their scaly hides to survive, humans prize soft, smooth skin above almost anything else, and we'll shell out some serious money to achieve it. But since life isn't fair, some people have naturally hydrated skin — like my grandma's friend Maureen, who doesn't have a single wrinkle on her glowing, baby-smooth, 70-something face — and some of us tend toward, well, the snakier end of the spectrum. Whatever. EVERYTHING ALWAYS COMES EASY FOR MAUREEN.
If your skin is less Maureen-like and more tuatara-esque, you've probably spent your entire adult life moisturizing in one form or another. You live in constant fear of winters, indoor heating, and long airplane rides. You've most likely invested in a “nice” water bottle, thinking that you'll drink more H2O if it comes in a pretty container. Now, I'm not a dermatologist, so I can't tell you exactly what you need to conquer the desiccated desert of your face. I'm simply here to tell you that you've got more options than you realize. Your skin's pH might be out of whack; your bedroom air might be too dry; Maureen might be replacing your expensive night cream with foot cream so that she can remain the most beautiful 70-year-old in the land. Try out these theories, but remember that these are just methods of treatment, not hard-and-fast solutions. (You'll notice that some of them even contradict each other.) Most importantly, don't be too hard on your skin, my reptilian friends. We can't beat Maureen, so let's join her.
1. Don't Use Oils at Night
If you're anything like me, night is the time you slather yourself from head to toe in exotic oils. The thought of going to bed without cloaking your visage in the liquid gold of the argan tree is unthinkable, right?! The first time I heard that Dr. Hauschka, the cult skincare brand, recommends leaving your face bare at night, I practically had to be rejuvenated with smelling salts. I was that shocked.
Mandi Griffiths, Manager of Education for Dr. Hauschka Skin Care, admits that “our philosophy surrounding oil-free night care can generate some puzzled looks, especially from those who saw Grandma slather her face with a rich cold cream before bed.” Moisture during the day is critical for dry skin, she says, but “at night time as you rest, the skin really works at its peak. It uses this time to self cleanse, regenerate, and balance. We want to encourage this activity, and that means choosing water-based products for hydration replenishment.” But — but — think of the jojoba! “Oils in the evening should be avoided, not only as they become occlusive as your face is pressed against your pillow, but can make your sebaceous glands dependent on products for comfort and nourishment,” she says. “Think of your morning cup of coffee — your brain becomes dependent on that caffeine to wake you up and get those synapses firing! The same is true for the skin. If the skin detects a comfortable level of oil on the skins surface, it doesn’t prompt the production of more of your own.”
To make this happen, skip the moisturizer at night altogether (gasp!) or use a water-based solution. And give your skin some time to adjust to this new method of night-care. (Those little ampoules in the picture are the Renewing Night Conditioner, an oil-free blend that helps skin transition.)
2. Restore Your Skin's pH Balance
The pH scale, if you recall, runs from 0 (acidic) to 14 (alkaline), and healthy skin should come in at a comfortable 5.5 — that is, slightly acidic. “At this slightly acidic pH, the skin is optimized to seal in hydration while protecting us from free radicals, pollution and environmental irritants,” says Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, M.D. F.A.A.D. “Think of the skin barrier like the protective clear coat on a car — it’s that thin layer that holds in skin’s moisture and nutrients while protecting skin from exterior environmental hazards, like pollutants and free radicals. But if you’re too abrasive on the barrier, it can become easily damaged.” If your skin is too alkaline? You guessed it: IT GETS DRY. Regular bar soap, foaming cleansers, and shampoo running down your face in the shower may be contributing to over-alkalinized skin. Dr. Nussbaum recommends looking for a cleanser that's soap- and alkali-free, and following with a moisturizer specifically designed to balance your skin's pH, like Sebamed Moisturizing Body Lotion.
Home remedy aficionados claim that mild homemade toners (e.g., a splash of lemon or apple cider vinegar in water) will restore skin's pH balance when applied with a cotton ball and then rinsed after a few minutes. Sounds kind of painful to me, but hey, if Anne of Green Gables could use lemon juice to get rid of her freckles...?
3. Eat Some Hyaluronic Acid
(I clearly don't know what it looks like.)
The idea of purposefully ingesting anything with the word “acid” in it might sound like the premise for a horror movie, but a 2014 study from Nutrition Journal says that “ingested hyaluronic acid increased skin moisture and improved treatment outcomes for patients with dry skin.” Wanna get technical? Hyaluronic acid “is a macromolecular mucopolysaccharide that is widely distributed in body tissues and intracellular fluids, and it is present at high concentrations in the synovial fluid, vitreous humor, and skin.” The study didn't recommend any specific supplements, but you can find hyaluronic acid capsules online.
Hyaluronic acid is also great when applied topically, according to Dr. Nussbaum: “It increases hydration, improves elasticity as well as minimizes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Hyaluronic acid has the ability to bind up to 1,000 times its weight in water. It has an immediate plumping effect due to the hydration, which helps not only with moisture but also in mitigating the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.” She recommends using a serum, moisturizer, or gel with hyaluronic acid — “the higher the percentage, the more potent the product” — and moving slowly to make sure it agrees with your skin. On a personal note, I once had a hyaluronic acid neck-and-eye facial (don't ask), where the facialist basically placed cool, gelatinous slabs of the substance on my skin. My skin looked amazing afterward, if I do say so myself.
4. Humidify Yo' Room
Humidifiers: Not just for stressed-out parents of young babies anymore! If your face is being sucked of all its life-giving moisture by winter air and indoor heat, buy a humidifier, or just stick a pot of water on your local radiator, which is what I do. You can also keep a pot of water boiling on the stove, air-dry your laundry, or invest in houseplants like the Areca Palm, which releases large amounts of water into the air. Note: Keep your humidifier clean, or else bad things can happen, like mold, and Maureen would totally judge you, because she keeps her house spotless.
5. Switch to the Oil-Cleansing Method
Everyone with dry skin recognizes the awful tightness that comes after washing your face with a soapy cleanser. Enter oil-cleansing, the hippiest face-cleaning method on the block, and one that I personally find extraordinarily effective. It's predicated on the idea that like dissolves like, so oil dissolves the oil on your skin, breaking up sebum, dirt, etc. You rub your face for a while with an oil or oils of your choosing before gently removing the oil with a warm washcloth.
Dr. Nussbaum advises acne-prone ladies to check with their dermatologist first, but says that “newer products are being formulated to calm inflammation and claim to clarify the skin...clear skin with light scarring may respond well to these special formulations created for calming inflammation.”
6. Moisturize While Wet
Is your entire body prone to dry itchiness? Turn off the shower and don't reach for the towel. Dr. Sarah Villafranco, founder of Osmia Organics, recommends slathering oil all over your body while you're still dripping wet. “A lotion is basically oil and water held together by an emulsifier and, because of the water component, requires preservation. The beauty of a body oil is that when you apply it to sopping wet skin, you have provided the water, and the application process mixes them perfectly. You only pay for the high-yield ingredients — the antioxidant-rich oils that nourish and soften the skin. What you don’t get is the emulsifiers and preservatives, which are not necessarily evil ingredients, but are usually a bit farther from their natural sources. Also, it’s a wonderful self-care ritual, and may even encourage naked dancing — something that is pretty much guaranteed to increase world happiness.”
7. Upgrade Your Products
I'm loathe to recommend spending more money on products when simpler, DIY remedies will do, but sometimes the trendier, rarer, more expensive oils actually do what they promise. I've just discovered chia oil (?!?) which is unbelievably silky and smells delicious and is full of fatty acids. Some dry-skinned girls swear by fancier oils like emu or camellia, which I've always been fascinated by.
Upgrading doesn't necessarily mean spending more, either — sometimes it just means switching to something a little more intense. Face balms, in my experience, are too heavy/waxy for everyday use, but I've started applying this really powerful balm all over my face before any sort of traveling, AKA the most dehydrating activity in the world aside from suntanning in the Sahara. Applying a balm pre-flight means I can stride over to the baggage claim looking a little bit more like Maureen and a little bit less like a saltwater crocodile.
8. Remember That Soap and Hot Water Are Your Skin's Worst Enemy
Ugh. I love a good facial steam as much as the next crazed Millennial consumer, but all signs point to hot water being really bad for your skin. “Hot water is irritating to skin’s protective barrier, and without proper hydration following exposure, skin is left vulnerable to damage,” says Dr. Nussbaum. “That tightness you feel after a nice long soak? Or the dry feeling of washing your hands several times a day without applying hand cream afterward? That’s your skin’s response to its protective layer being stripped away. Use lukewarm water and focus on getting a good rinse instead. Long, hot showers are the enemy — showers should be no longer than 5 minutes with lukewarm water and followed by intense moisturization.”
If you're using regular soap on your skin, I applaud you for your pioneer woman tendencies while simultaneously shaking my head gently at your naiveté. “Real soap — think your boyfriend’s favorite green bar — is an alkaline substance that strips the skin of oils, even the good ones. Researchers have discovered that this soap (which is alkaline, not acidic) strips the skin’s acid mantle and causes skin pH to rise, making skin susceptible to external factors (allergens, irritants, weather, infection) and internal factors (stress, hormones, diseases) that trigger skin inflammation. It can take hours to bring skin’s pH back to 5.5 after using soap," says Dr. Nussbaum. If you love using a bar, she recommends finding a “syndet bar” or “beauty bar," which is an alternative to soap, and doesn't include harsh surfactants. “Just make sure it is without petrolatum (may be listed as sodium myreth sulfate or other names) as it is controversial whether it is linked to causing cancer,” she says.
9. Break Up with Your Washcloth
Your washcloth may be your friend — but it's not your best friend. Don't get too cozy with it. “Washcloths are too abrasive for your face, especially the gentle skin on your cheeks,” says Dr. Nussbaum. “Your hands or a gentle cleansing brush work just fine, and afterwards, pat dry instead of scraping your skin with your towel.” (This just in: Maureen owns like twenty monogrammed fiber cleaning clothes. Ugh, whatever.)
Images: Tori Telfer