How are moisturizers for dry skin unique?

James M.. Wilmott

 Moisturizers designed for dry skin are unique because of their composition and the concentration of the therapeutic agents that are added to the product.  Dry skin is usually the result of damage to the skin's natural lipid barrier, which is responsible for keeping water in the skin.  There are three primary approaches for treating dry skin.   First is the restoration of the barrier lipids by the application of polyunsaturated fatty acids, ceramides, and phospholipids.  Second is the infusion of water into the skin through the use of materials called humectants that bind water.  When applied the bound water absorbs into the outer layer of the skin making softer and more supple.  Third is the application of an occlusive agent that blocks the release of water from the skin to allow it to restore its optimum level.  Products created for very dry skin will include materials that perform the above functions.  However, they will often use materials that have stronger properties than those found in moisturizers used for Oily and Normal Skin.  One should look for products that include the following:

  • Barrier Restoration:  Materials such as ceramides, cholesterol, lecithin, and unsaturated fatty acid triglycerides (olive oil, flaxseed oil, argan oil, etc.) will help repair the barrier and relieve the symptoms of dry skin rapidly.  One should also look for ingredients such as niacinamide and allantoin which help in the long-term improvement in the integrity of the lipid barrier.
  • Humectants:  These materials typically bind large amounts of water to infuse the skin with hydration.  Look for materials such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid and other biopolysaccharides, pentylene glycol, trehalose, xylitol, ectoin, sodium lactate and pyrrolidone carboxylic acid.
  • Occlusive Agents:  Materials such as dimethicone, lanolin, cross-linked hyaluronic acid, and shea butter create a protective film on the skin's surface to block the transmission of water from the skin to the surrounding environment thereby allowing water to build up in the skin.   

If you have dry skin, you need a moisturizer meant for that problem. In this video, dermatologist Dr. Rosemarie Ingleton describes what to look for in a moisturizer designed for dry skin.

Moisturizing is important for all skin types. However, you may select a different moisturizer to use depending on whether you have naturally oily or dry skin.

"Oil Containing" moisturizers are usually best for patients with dry skin. They contain petrolatum, which helps soothe and prevent water loss through the skin. Most cosmetic-grade petrolatum does not cause allergies or irritation to the skin and should not cause acne breakouts.

"Oil-Free" moisturizers may better for patients with oily skin. Instead of petrolatum, they contain dimethicone, a silicone-based substance. They are less greasy than other moisturizers and can make the skin feel smooth and less oily. Dimethicone does not cause skin allergies or irritation and does not cause pimples.

Moisturizers all come in different vehicles, including ointments, creams, lotions, and serums. Heavier moisturizers can be used in people with dry skin but may feel greasy in patients with oily skin. On the other hand, a light moisturizer may not be enough for someone with dry skin.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

Facial moisturizers for dry skin consist primarily of water, mineral oil, propylene glycol, and higher amounts of petrolatum or lanolin than can be found in creams for oily or normal skin types. This higher concentration of occlusives leads to a greasier feel, and an oilier look when applied to the skin. Body moisturizers for dry skin usually contain a combination of occlusives and humectants, like petrolatum and glycerol.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.