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Moisturizing your skin: Dermatologists share their tips and secrets

It’s one of the most common questions dermatologists hear: what is the best moisturizer? Two of Sunnybrook’s leading dermatologists, Dr. Neil Shear and Dr. Kucy Pon, weigh in with their advice and expertise on this, and other common queries.

Why is moisturizing important?

NS: The skin has its own natural humectants that keep moisture in, but there are many reasons why that skin barrier can break down. Some of the most common include disease, older age and weather. You need to take steps to keep moisture inside the skin.

What happens if you don’t moisturize properly?

NS: You can get rashes, and itchy scaly skin. And if the skin becomes irritated and inflamed, there is a higher risk of infection and scarring.

What is the best moisturizer?

KP: There’s no such thing as the “best” moisturizer for everyone, and picking the right one depends on your skin type, preference for consistency and what you are comfortable spending. So for more oily skin, an oil-free moisturizer, something noncomedogenic and maybe more lotion-based may be preferred. If you have very dry skin or are prone to eczema, a thicker cream or ointment may be better.

NS: The best moisturizer is really the one you will use every day, and that may be very different for everyone depending on their preference, skin type and budget. There’s no scoring system for moisturizers, so it’s the one you are most comfortable with.

Is it better to moisturize as soon as you get out of the shower?

KP: A good way to make sure your skin is moisturized is to put it on right after your daily shower so that it becomes a regular habit. If you suffer from really dry skin, maybe moisturize one or two more times during the day.

NS: You can really moisturize anytime, as long as you do it regularly. In the long run, your skin will look younger and feel better. Just remember that anytime is better than next time!

If you spend more money, will you get better results?

KP: You can get good results at all price points, so it just depends on what your are comfortable spending. Price does not always dictate quality or results.

Are there any skincare ingredients consumers should avoid?

KP: Generally, we recommend using fragrance-free products because in many cases, fragrances can aggravate skin conditions and can be a potential cause of allergies.

NS: I actually love to read labels, so in a moisturizer, I tend to steer away from known allergens. That’s hard, though, because there are a lot of them out there and for most people, they aren’t a problem. If you are experiencing problems, like rashes or itching, you may be allergic to some of your skincare components. That’s something a dermatologist can test for.

Do you need to wear sunscreen all year long?

NS: Yes, and I would recommend choosing one that contains a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

KP: People should apply an SPF every day. Even in the cold and winter, there can be sunny days and UV rays are present. Also, the snow and ice can bounce the UV rays back, exposing us to reflective UV rays.

What should you apply first: moisturizer or sunscreen?

KP: Moisturizer first, and then sunscreen.  There are also a lot of great two-in-one products that can make the process more convenient. Just keep in mind when applying a sunscreen that you need to use adequate amounts to protect yourself.  We recommend about two tablespoons to cover the whole body, and don’t forget to reapply after a few hours.

Will drinking water hydrate the skin?

NS: Proper hydration is important for overall health, but it’s not going to do enough to moisturize the skin. You need to apply something directly to the skin to do the trick.

Many products claim to reverse aging. Any truth to that?

NS: There’s no reversing aging, but if you keep your skin moisturized well, it will generally look younger and healthier.

KP: Some creams and cosmeceuticals do provide benefits to the skin, like giving it a glow and helping it feel supple. By far the best anti-aging strategy is practicing proper sun protection.

Do you need a separate moisturizer for around your eyes?

NS: The eye cream story is complicated because people have different issues, like puffiness or dark circles. There are also many skin correctors that, if applied too closely to the eye area, may cause burning or irritation to the eyes. I would recommend finding something simple, not too heavy, that addresses your specific needs.

KP: Often a facial moisturizer is good for the whole face, but some people like to have a specific eye cream. It all comes down to personal preference.

Should your skin care routine change as you age?

KP: It might, as the issues you deal with shift at various ages. Even if your products change, though, be consistent with sunscreen at all ages.

What do serums do?

KP: Serums aren’t moisturizers. They are ways to deliver active ingredients to the skin. If you’re going to use one, follow this order: wash your face, then apply your serum, moisturizer, sunscreen and makeup.

Should you change your moisturizer seasonally?

NS: It’s not necessary, but I’d recommend it if you feel your skin needs are different throughout the year.

Are hydrating facial masks effective?

KP: A lot of women like using them because they are relaxing, so there’s value in that. Some facial masks deliver active ingredients to the skin, so as long as they don’t irritate your skin, go ahead and enjoy them.

Any final words of advice?

NS: With online shopping, it’s easy to access products through mail orders from all over the world. Keep in mind, though, that some of these products may contain ingredients that have not undergone proper testing and haven’t been approved for use in Canada, so it’s buyer beware.

KP: In the winter, when many people develop dry, itchy skin, I recommend using a humidifier in your bedroom, opting for gentle cleaners and avoiding itchy fabrics coming in direct contact with your skin.

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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