Could Moisturizer Be the Answer to Your Acne Issue?
Common sense tells us that curing acne is matter of drying up the skin. Countless skin care experts tell us that everyone who has acne needs a moisturizer. And both pieces of advice are correct in their own way.
If you have acne, especially if you have the kind of acne that causes tiny red pimples on your forehead cheeks, and nose, you may see great improvement in your skin when you begin to use moisturizer. If you have naturally oily skin that gives you lots of whiteheads and great big blackheads, you also may occasionally need moisturizer. But not everybody who has acne needs the same moisturizer in the same amounts all the time.
- It used to be considered common sense that curing acne required “drying up” the skin. Now it is known that blue and red rays in sunlight did the healing, not desiccation of the skin.
- Alcohol dries the skin, but it also causes inflammation.
- Moisture in the skin helps keeps pores open so blemishes do not form.
- Over-use of alcohol-based “moisturizers” can make acne worse, especially if you have lots of small red pimples on your cheeks and forehead.
- The best moisturizers are made from oil in water or water in oil.
- You only need one moisturizer for all the skin in your face. Some parts of your face may need more moisturizer than others.
- The easiest way to get the moisturizer you need for acne skin care is with a complete acne treatment system such as Exposed Skin Care.
Is Healing Acne Really All About Drying Up Your Skin?
For centuries, people with acne were told that they needed to dry up the skin. It seemed just to make sense. Whiteheads and blackheads, after all, start as oily buildup in pores. Pimples ooze when you pick at them. Dry up your skin, and the acne should stop.
In the era before acne skin care products, the way to dry up your skin was to get more sun. Sunlight really can dry up acne, but it is specifically the visible blue and red rays of sunlight that make the difference. Blue light can kill acne bacteria1. It cannot penetrate deep into pores, but it does not need to kill all the bacteria in a pore to make a difference. And red light can reach deeper into the skin and shrink the sebaceous glands that make the excess oil that forms part of the clog in pores.
The problem with the sunshine cure for acne is that too much sunshine can also cause sunburn. And if you have brown or black skin, sunlight causes both age spots and brown spots where acne has healed. That too much sun can cause age spots was obvious, so clever cosmetics makers of another era came up with another way to “dry up” the skin, with alcohol.
Alcohol for Drying the Skin
There is no doubt that alcohol dries the skin. Typically the kind of alcohol applied to the skin is isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol, although ethanol, the kind of alcohol you drink, would have a similar effect. In the middle of the twentieth century, alcohol rubs and scrubs became a very popular way of treating acne. They definitely dried up the skin.
Unfortunately, that isn’t all they did. Alcohol-based products also increase oil production. There are some skin care experts, notably the venerable “cosmetics cop” Paula Begoun, who insist that the idea that alcohol increases oil production is ridiculous. Alcohol does not stimulate excess oil production, Begoun and other experts say, hormones stimulate excess oil production2.
These experts are right. However, the irritation of the skin as it dries out the skin causes the skin to release a hormone known as corticotrophin stimulating hormone. This stress hormone triggers the release of histamine that irritates the skin3 and increases the activity of sebaceous glands. The sebaceous glands release oil to repair the irritation caused by alcohol.
It’s really ironic that there are many alcohol-based “moisturizers4” for the skin. If you have very oily, chemical resistant skin, they may not cause additional skin damage. But there are no skin types for which alcohol moisturizes and improves the skin.
But If We Don’t Need to Dry the Skin to Fight Acne, Why Moisturize?
If drying the skin doesn’t fight acne, why would moisturizing the skin help? The answer is that moisture in the skin helps get rid of oil on the skin5, and it the oil on the skin that clogs pores trying to bring it (and dead skin cells and acne bacteria) to the surface.
The skin provides a protective barrier6 that is organized in a way that is reminiscent of a brick wall. Tough skin cells known as corneocytes are the bricks. Fats and fat-like substances such as ceramides and triglycerides form the mortar. Most of the contents of the human body are “watery,” so the combination of tough proteins and fatty lubricants protects the interior of the body from dilution or leakage.
Tiny amounts of water are found in the skin. The skin has to let very little water through, and moves water in and out very slowly. It uses carrier molecules known as aquaporins7 to transport water back and forth in the skin.
Just a splash of water on the skin may be more than enough to fill the aquaporins and add all the extra water the skin can hold—for an hour or two. Skin-identical ceramides and fats do a lot more to keep the skin moist and supple. They dilute the “mortar” holding skin cells together just enough to let the skin move with muscles beneath it and keep pores open so they don’t fill with sebum that becomes whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples.
The best moisturizers8 are some combination of oil in water or water in oil. Just because you have oily skin, which is really having too much oil on your skin, does not mean that your skin may not need additional moisture. It just means that your skin probably needs more water than oil.
Is Just One Moisturizer Enough?
Countless cosmetics makers try to sell you additional products by claiming that the skin around your eyes, or on your nose, or on your neck, needs special skin care ingredients. Don’t buy only one moisturizer for your skin, these manufacturers will tell you. Buy at least two. But there is no scientific evidence that supports the idea that skin on different locations on your body requires different skin-moisturizing9 ingredients.
The difference between locations on your body is not what moisturizer they need, it’s how much moisturizer they need. Only people who have dry skin need moisturizer on their cheeks and forehead. Even people who have oily skin may need moisturizer on the sides of the faces from time to time. And even you need moisturizer10 all over your face, you may need more moisturizer or to use moisturizer more often on certain locations.
How to Use Moisturizer
It’s easy to forget that the purpose of moisturizer is not just to add moisture to your skin, it is also to lock moisture in your skin. This means that you should not try to make your skin desert-dry before you add moisture to it.
It is best to apply moisturizer just after you have cleansed your skin10. You want to pat your face dry so you don’t have any drips, but you want to apply moisturizer while your skin is still damp and soft to the touch. Use moisturizer before foundation and other makeup.
Water Is a Great Moisturizer
Don’t forget that water is a great moisturizer11. If you don’t use makeup, a little clean water on your face a few times a day can keep your skin tones bright and prevent flaking and peeling. The moisture in your skin helps pores drain.
Also, a splash of facial waters can help calm sensitive skin. Collected from mineral springs that contain water rich in natural selenium, magnesium, and/or sulfur, facial waters add minerals to your face that you can secure with moisturizer. Rinse off cleanser, and then spray your face with facial waters to calm red skin.
You can spend countless trips to the cosmetics counters and thousands of dollars finding the perfect moisturizer to add to your skin clearing routine. Or you can get moisturizers that work as a part of your comprehensive acne care system from Exposed Skin Care.
- Dai T, Gupta A, Murray CK, Vrahas MS, Tegos GP, Hamblin MR. Blue light for infectious diseases: Propionibacterium acnes, Helicobacter pylori, and beyond? Drug Resist Updat. 2012 Aug;15(4):223-36
- Sebum | DermNet NZ. Dermnetnz.org. 2019
- Ashina K, Tsubosaka Y, Nakamura T, Omori K, Kobayashi K, Hori M, Ozaki H, Murata T. Histamine Induces Vascular Hyperpermeability by Increasing Blood Flow and Endothelial Barrier Disruption In Vivo. PLoS One. 2015 Jul 9;10(7):e0132367.
- Chularojanamontri L, Tuchinda P, Kulthanan K, Pongparit K. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents? J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014 May;7(5):36-44.
- How to control oily skin | American Academy of Dermatology. Aad.org. 2019.
- Rosso JD, Zeichner J, Alexis A, Cohen D, Berson D. Understanding the Epidermal Barrier in Healthy and Compromised Skin: Clinically Relevant Information for the Dermatology Practitioner: Proceedings of an Expert Panel Roundtable Meeting. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2016 Apr;9(4 Suppl 1):S2-S8.
- Verkman AS. Aquaporins in clinical medicine. Annu Rev Med. 2012;63:303-16.
- Del Rosso JQ. The role of skin care as an integral component in the management of acne vulgaris: part 1: the importance of cleanser and moisturizer ingredients, design, and product selection. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2013 Dec;6(12):19-27.
- Proper skin care lays the foundation for successful acne and rosacea treatment | American Academy of Dermatology. Aad.org. 2019
- Moisturizers: Options for softer skin. Mayo Clinic. 2019
- A. Firooz, N. Aghazadeh, A. Rajabi Estarabadi, P. Hejazi. The effects of water exposure on biophysical properties of normal skin. Skin Res Technol. 2015 May; 21(2): 131–136.
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