It just occurred to me that I haven't regularly used moisturizer in probably a year.
I don't miss it.
I didn't give it up intentionally, mind you; it kind of just happened. First of all, because it's so darn hard to find a good one. If you follow Beauty Editor on Snapchat, then you know I am extra-critical of all the generic moisturizers that cross my desk, which almost always contain some combination of water, silicones, alcohol, preservatives, mineral oil and/or unstable polyunsaturated oils. At best, these types of products are a "fast fix" that temporarily give the illusion of smoother skin, but do nothing to improve its condition deep-down.
Fortunately, I like serums. I've always been big into Consonant HydrExtreme (now at Sephora!), and lately I've been serious about daily exfoliation. The acids alone improved my skin to the point where it began acting surprisingly normal—not dry nor oily nor overly sensitive, with only the occasional breakout. I guess that made me lazier, because I started going to bed with just the serum, and relying on serum plus sheer natural foundation (either Sappho Organics or RMS "Un" Cover-Up) during the day.
Contrary to all the "skincare rules," nothing bad happened. In fact, quite the opposite—I'm MUCH happier with my skin on this simple routine than in years past, when I was always searching for creams to solve my problems.
But how can this be, when the number one most dispensed piece of skincare advice is that everyone NEEDS to moisturize? Is moisturizer... overrated?
I'm starting to think so, yes! And there are dermatologists who agree. I did some digging and was actually shocked at all the problems moisturizer can cause for your skin. Here's why you might want to re-think it:
1. Moisturizer can slow down your natural exfoliation process.
Our skin naturally exfoliates itself on a monthly basis. New skin cells migrate from the bottom of the epidermis up to the surface of our faces, where they die and flake off to reveal the next layer of fresh cells underneath.
Moisturizer interferes with this natural cycle by keeping the old, dead cells stuck to the skin instead of letting them shed naturally. (Ick!)
This not only creates a dull look and dry texture, but it also slows down the entire cell regeneration process. According to dermatologist Zein Obagi in his book, The Art of Skin Health, the accumulation of dead cells at the top signals the epidermis to slow down the rate at which it creates new cells—exactly the opposite to what we want to achieve.
2. Moisturizer can stop your skin from hydrating itself.
Only 15 percent of the population have genetically dry skin that requires moisturizer, says dermatologist Rachael Eckel. She thinks the rest of us probably have an "acquired dryness" we brought upon ourselves by over-using moisturizer.
That our skin would be inherently built to keep itself hydrated, without any outside help, makes total sense. But when it gets accustomed to twice-daily moisturizer applications, it becomes lazy and stops regulating its own moisture from within.
The skin cells in the epidermis that are receiving regular moisturizer doses send a message to the ones below that yes, they have enough water, thankyouverymuch. As a result, the cells in the dermis go dormant. And skin becomes drier and less elastic—oh noes!
3. Moisturizer can make your skin more sensitive.
It seems like a no-brainer that you'd want to keep sensitive skin heavily moisturized. Well... maybe not.
When you apply moisturizer, it alters the skin's natural balance of proteins, water and lipids. This can weaken its barrier function, which is designed to keep moisture and nutrients in and bacteria and irritants out. This study, for example, found that long-term moisturizer use with certain ingredients increased transepidermal water loss.
It's well-established that a compromised skin barrier can lead to dehydration and sensitivity. So you can see how easily a dependence might be created when you attempt to "fix" these conditions with more moisturizer.
4. Moisturizer can clog your pores.
I'm not just talking about the clogged pores that lead to acne, although moisturizers that are too heavy can definitely be a factor.
But even if you don't get acne, moisturizers can clog your pores and negatively impact your skin. Silicones are the main culprit, and they can be found in most products these days because they act as cheap "fillers" and offer an immediate (but temporary) skin-smoothing benefit.
Since they sit on the surface of the skin, the concern with silicones is not absorption; rather, it's the fact that they accumulate in the pores along with oil, dirt and dead skin cells. This debris can make pores appear larger, a condition often associated with aging. Even more worrisome, the clogs can interfere with the whole cell regeneration process I mentioned, potentially leading to dehydration, dullness and a prematurely aged look.
How To Wean Yourself Off Moisturizer
Maybe you'll consider an experiment to see whether you, too, can live without moisturizer! Now that the weather's warming up, it's the perfect time to try this because your skin should be producing more of its own natural oils.
Here are some tips to make the transition easier:
- Switch to a serum. Try swapping your cream for a watery moisturizing serum. That way, you'll get some light, humectant-based hydration, but not have to worry about ingredients that will clog your pores or make dead skin cells cling. I've not had good luck with hyaluronic acid, which seems to dry out my skin (more on that here). But like I said, I loooove Consonant HydrExtreme, which is a natural, two-ingredient serum that contains glycerin and a naturally-derived sugar that binds with 1000 times its weight in water (and outperforms hyaluronic acid at keeping moisture in the skin). I put it around my eyes, too, although you still might want an eye cream there since it's such a delicate area prone to crepiness.
- Use a sulfate-free cleanser. I have a theory that a lot of people think they need moisturizer when really, their skin only feels tight because their cleanser is too aggressive and stripping. Make sure you're using a gentle one without sulfates; I'm using Derma E Purifying Gel Cleanser right now, but have lots more recommendations here. If your skin is very dry and sensitive, you can always wash with a no-rinse micellar cleanser, such as Bioderma Sensibio H2O, on a cotton pad.
- Step up your exfoliation. Regular exfoliation can help kickstart a lazy complexion that hasn't been doing it well on its own. As I outlined here, I like acids; lactic is gentle for beginners, but glycolic is the gold standard. Lots of suggestions here, including my fave Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Extreme Pads. This will help get a glow going and remove surface dead skin build-up!
- Don't forget SPF. Obviously, sun protection is still paramount. If you want to avoid anything in a moisturizer format, you could try a clear SPF spray, such as Kinesys, or mineral SPF powder, such as Colorescience Sunforgettable. I've also had good luck with Cyberderm Simply Zinc, Derma E and Attitude Living—none of which contain silicones.
- Expect a transition period. Your skin might feel tight at first, and it might also produce more oil to compensate for the moisturizer being taken away. (Kinda like how no-poo advocates say that your hair has to adjust to going shampoo-free.) See if you can give it time to regulate. This before and after is kind of amazing!
Hopefully, you're as intrigued by this "no moisturizer" thing as I am!
To be clear, I don't think moisturizer is always bad. Those 15 percent of people who have genetic dry skin conditions will need to use it, for example. And it's necessary for times when skin has been compromised by extreme weather conditions, such as wind and cold.
Otherwise? We probably don't need it as often as we think we do. (Or as often as beauty companies imply.) Not to be cynical, but a lot of skincare "advice" is really about encouraging people to buy more products. However, one has to wonder whether some of these so-called skin problems were created by using said products in the first place...
Personally, I doubt I'll go back to using moisturizer on a regular basis again—and I don't need to, because serums exist! And acids, and gentle cleansers! These are the things that have really changed my skincare routine for the better recently... I would love to find out if this works for you!
Do you use moisturizer?
Would you ever try going without it?