If you are used to apply moisturizers to skin after a shower or face washing, this article is your right choice. Skin-care products are literally everywhere nowadays, and you may even feel dizzy surrounded by them.
According to data, at least half of Americans have sensitive skin or a diagnosed skin condition such as eczema, atopic dermatitis or rosacea. No wonder the market of skin-care products is booming.
However, after doing 45 years of research on whether moisturizers and other products can really help us, dermatology professor Peter Elias says that the products may be doing as much harm as good, especially for people with sensitive skin.
His patients complaint about applying some expensive moisturizers but only feeling relief for the first hour, and the skin became drier after. That’s when Elias decided to find out what’s going on.
Skin as a brick wall to the body
Our skin is exposed to everything from sunlight to environmental toxins, and protects our body effectively like a barrier. Elias refers the skin to a brick wall.
The “bricks” are actually corneocytes, the dead cells that make up the surface of the skin. These “bricks” are held together by membrane sheaths made of a “mortar” of three lipids: cholesterol, ceramides and fatty acids.
When the “mortar” is in a balance, the wall can work well to avoid harm from the outside; when the three lipids lose the balance, however, the wall can no longer protect effectively and turns into Swiss cheese.
How skin reacts to moisturizers
According to Elias’s research, moisturizers on the shelf may be doing more harm than good for certain people, because they break the balance of the wall.
Maintaining the brick wall comes down to a suite of related factors: pH of the skin, the makeup of the “mortar,” and the body’s response to the “Swiss cheese” situation.
Many lotions in the market may lack “mortar” ingredients, contain them in the wrong proportions, or change the skin’s naturally acidic pH, which may cause the skin unable to prevent infection.
When the pH is thrown off, the enzymes cannot produce ingredients for the “mortar” properly, leading to a low amount of mortar produced or a wrong ratio of the three lipids, which can cause “Swiss cheese”.
The body perceives the “Swiss cheese” as an injury, so it triggers the inflammation response to heal the injury. But for people with sensitive skin or skin conditions, their repair machinery isn’t functioning properly. So the injury remains, and the inflammation and irritation becomes greater.
The great majority of moisturizers haven’t been tested on people with sensitive skin, which is the main reason why people with sensitive skin and skin conditions may feel uncomfortable when applying moisturizers.
Relief for sensitive skin
Lotions labeled with “skin repair” and containing the “mortar ingredients” are likely to help people with sensitive skin. Research showed that a special formula of the lipids in their proper proportions decreases inflammation.
Elias and his colleague are planning two larger-scale studies in China, focusing on the effect of a lotion designed for barrier repair and how much the body needs to be covered respectively.