Unless you live in a bubble (or a day spa), you inevitably battle moisture-sapping skin villains: indoors in the form of dry heat and stuffy air; outdoors as sun, wind, arid climates, and pollution, which contains physical particles that can settle on the face and body, clogging pores and dehydrating the skin, according to Stephanie Tourles, licensed holistic esthetician and author of Organic Body Care Recipes (Storey, 2007).
Parched skin’s effects transcend the dull, flaky complexion most commonly associated with moisture loss. “When skin dries out, the supportive collagen and elastic matrix beneath the skin—which gives skin its firmness and smoothness and requires water to function optimally—begins to collapse upon itself,” says Tourles. As a result, cellular turnover slows down and cells clump together, making skin more susceptible to sagging and wrinkles.
To stop this downward spiral, experts recommend using a high-quality moisturizer on your face and body daily. But because not all skin is the same—and not all moisturizers are created equally—soak up this advice for keeping your skin hydrated and healthy year-round.
1. Choose water-based or oil-based?
First consider your skin type: For normal-to-oily or oily skin, Tourles recommends a lightweight, water-based moisturizer; for normal-to-dry, dry, or mature skin, choose a heavier, oil-based moisturizer; and people with normal skin may want to mix it up seasonally, using oil-based in the winter and water-based when temperatures heat up, which is when skin tends to produce more of its own oils.
Regardless of your skin type, reap the most benefits from any moisturizer by exfoliating twice weekly once if you have sensitive skin). “It's important to remove the dead skin cells so that you can keep fresh new cells hydrated,” says Kaelen Johnson, director of Pure Aesthetics Natural Skincare School in Tucson, Ariz. And even people with oily skin must moisturize in addition to exfoliating, says Johnson. “Often people with oily skin use a product that is too alkaline because they like that squeaky clean feeling, but this actually strips the skin’s protective barrier. The skin then produces more oil, thus creating a vicious cycle.”
2. Replenish with natural ingredients.
Using moisturizers free from synthetic ingredients means you’re dodging toxins, allergens, and irritants found in many conventional products (moisturizers’ most common offenders include mineral oil, parabens, and synthetic fragrances). But experts point out another key reason to use all-natural products: Unlike synthetics, which may ultimately inhibit your skin’s natural moisturizing factor, natural ingredients workwith your skin’s natural oils to maintain optimal moisture. Also, moisturizers with petrochemicals may clog your pores, Johnson says.
If you’re looking for an oil-based moisturizer, choose ingredients rich in ultranourishing omega fatty acids. Pantry favorites extra-virgin olive oil and unrefined extra-virgin coconut oil are popular moisturizing ingredients thanks to their high fatty acid content. They lubricate and nourish the skin, locking in its natural moisture.
Specifically for the face, try jojoba and macadamia nut oils. In addition to being excellent all-over body moisturizers, their chemical structure is almost identical to human sebum, making them ideal for sensitive facial areas such as around the eyes. Also consider rosehip oil, one of the only plant-based oils to contain wrinkle-fighting retinol (vitamin A), as well as sea buckthorn oil, which offers a complete arsenal of moisturizing omegas, including 3, 6, 9, and the extremely rare 7.
For oily complexions, look for natural humectants, which draw water from the air into the skin. The category’s all-star: hyaluronic acid (HA), a molecule nicknamed “nature’s moisture magnet” for its ability to hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water. Tourles also recommends looking for products with sorbitol or vegetable glycerin, two other natural humectants.
3. Load up on hydrating foods.
Topical treatments aren’t the only way to improve skin’s moisture, says Johnson. Eating the right foods and taking certain supplements may be equally vital to your skin’s health. “It is important to have a diet that contains lots of nutrients and essential fatty acids from foods such as avocado, salmon, and dark leafy greens,” says Johnson. “Eating these helps prevent dryness all over your body.”
Be sure you’re getting enough H20, too, but remember it doesn’t have to be in the form of a glass of water. “Structured water” in moisture-rich foods such as beans, fruits, and vegetables also protects and nourishes skin cells from the inside out.
Quick Tip: For a light, midday moisture boost, Tourles recommends spritzing your face with purified water or flower water, also known as an herbal hydrosol.