Forecast: Dry & Flaky

Protect clients’ faces from the elements with the best moisturizing strategies that skincare science has to offer.

Patrizia Tilly/THINKSTOCK

What could be more beautiful than that first winter snowfall? Lovely as it is, the icy temperatures that follow can ruin complexions. The mechanisms that control skin cells’ water content are overwhelmed with constant exposure to environmental challenges and chemical assaults from hot showers and harsh soaps. Low humidity and arid indoor heat also pull moisture from skin. The ensuing dehydration disrupts cell turnover, leading to an avalanche of dead cells and that lifeless winter pallor we all dread.

The solution? “Increase your layers of defense,” says Gül C. Zone, biochemist and creator of DermAware. “Defend against wind and chafing with invisible barrier creams. Defend against dryness by layering hydrators under emollient creams. Defend against ultraviolet rays with moisturizing sunscreens and antioxidants—especially if you engage in winter sports.”

Regular moisturizers may not be enough to compensate for winter conditions in many parts of the U.S. So what should you recommend to clients? To start, know that basic moisturizers contain one or a mixture of three types of ingredients: humectants, emollients and occlusives.

Humectants attract water from the dermis into the epidermis, or from the air when humidity is greater than 70%. These include hyaluronic acid (also called sodium hyaluronate), glycerin, propylene glycerol, sodium PCA, sorbitol, urea, and lactic and glycolic acids. “Besides water itself, hyaluronic acid remains one of the most touted ingredients for increasing moisture in the skin,” says Dr. Christian Jurist, medical director of global education at Pevonia Botanica. “It can hold many times its own weight in water, acting as a replenishing sponge.”

Emollients are lubricants that help keep the outermost layers of skin smooth and pliable. They include such natural oils as jojoba, olive, canola, sesame and almond, as well as oil-like ingredients such as dimethicone, ceramides and squalene. “Dry skin requires more lipids to correct the lack of oil and the lack of hydration,” says Karen Asquith, national director of training for G.M. Collin.


“We’ve found that three separate compounds—osmolytes (naturally occurring compounds that protect cells and ensure water balance in the skin), yeast amino acids and trehalose (a humectant)—can work together to increase hydration in the skin.” —Dr. Howard Murad, Murad Inc.

Occlusives slow water loss at the skin’s surface and are most effective when applied to damp skin. These include beeswax, caprylic/capric triglyceride, mineral oil, lanolin, paraffin and propylene glycol dioleate. “There is a role for occlusive creams as a final step if the skin has been deeply exfoliated,” says Zone. “However, this type of moisturizer does not need to be greasy, oily or thick. It is important that it be loaded with healing, protective elements to protect the skin from UV and other oxidative damage.”

The right moisturizer for a particular client will have the perfect balance of humectants and emollients ideally suited to her skin type and condition. Ease of absorption makes water-dominant moisturizers the preferred choice for most spa-goers, notes Katherine Tomasso, national director of education at Yon-Ka Paris, but “oil-dominant moisturizers can be a better choice for very dry skin, especially during cold weather. Adding cold-pressed, plant-based oils such as sunflower, jojoba or sandalwood promotes barrier repair and minimizes transepidermal water loss.”


“The Nobel Prize–winning discovery of aquaporines—proteins integral to cell membranes that improve the movement of water in and out of skin cells—opened up a new perspective for dynamic moisturization. A pomegranate extract actually stimulates aquaporine 3.” —Karen Asquith, G.M. Collin

Many newer moisturizers go well beyond attracting moisture to the epidermis and preventing transepidermal water loss. “Moisturizers have really become an all-in-one category of products, with the newest formulations adding high-performance ingredients to address specific skin concerns and protect it from sun and free radicals,” says Jurist.

“To do a really good job, a moisturizer should make sure skin isn’t being damaged by the environment,” adds Dr. Howard Murad, dermatologist, founder and CEO of Murad Inc., and director of the Murad Inclusive Health Spa in El Segundo, California. “That means including antioxidants and amino acids that make skin more resistant to environmental hazards.”


“We’ve gotten away from the Band-Aid approach to focus more on treating the skin from the inside out. We now choose ingredients that look like the glycosaminoglycans naturally found in our skin, bearing the same functionality. Transepidermal water loss is addressed with various peptides and natural antioxidants.”—Gül Zone, DermAware

There’s no best moisturizer for everyone. Spa professionals need to consider skin type, age, degree of sensitivity and specific conditions such as acne and rosacea before making a recommendation. •

Freezing Fronts

Think cold isn’t the culprit? Guess again! It’s actually the lack of humidity (water vapor in the air) at below-freezing temperatures that can lead to winter dryness. “The optimum relative humidity level is generally considered to be between 40% and 50%. When it falls below 30%, the air in our environment behaves like a sponge, extracting precious moisture from our skin,” says esthetician Jessica Arnold of Simonson’s Salon & Spa in Maple Grove, Minnesota. And cracked, dry skin simply isn’t able to function as designed.

Normally, skin is protected by two concurrent systems: Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF) and intercellular lipids. NMF consists of free amino acids and naturally occurring skin chemicals such as lactic acid, urea and salts in the cells. They combine with intercellular lipids such as ceramide to protect against water loss. The normal water content of the stratum corneum, or outermost layer of the epidermis, is about 30%. When it drops below that level, proteolytic enzymes are activated to increase NMF. Many of today’s high-tech moisturizers work with these systems to stimulate NMF and provide extra lipids when the skin’s barrier function is impaired.

A Flood of Ideas

What are the current options in moisturizing products? Simple ingredients such as aloe vera, honey and olive oil, which have been used to soothe and smooth rough, dry skin for centuries, are still included in many effective moisturizers. However, innovations like triphase microemulsions, which allow oil and water to mix, have made it possible to include many more ingredients in moisturizing formulations. The newest products also contain nanoparticles of such helpful ingredients as the antioxidant coenzyme Q10 and niacinamide, which increases fatty acid levels in the skin to prevent water loss.

Researchers continue to make breakthroughs in the science of skin moisture retention, and product manufacturers’ research and development teams are always finding new ways to connect the dots with ingenious ingredient combinations and delivery systems. It’s impossible to list all of the exciting options available to estheticians and clients, but the remarks from our experts sprinkled around these pages speak to a brave new world in moisturizers.


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