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Question: Can Moisturizers Be Harmful?

Susan from Indiana submitted this question about moisturizing via Facebook:

I've been using moisturizers from Decleor, Skinceuticals and Dermalogica every day for years in the hope of improving my rosacea. I read with interest your article about repairing the skin barrier. None of the moisturizers I have used contain the ingredients in that article. I have changed my product use but I was wondering — is it possible that I have done some harm by using moisturizers?


Harm is a relative term, but yes you would have secured healthier skin and less rosacea symptoms by avoiding these products.

"Moisturizer" is a term which encompasses any substance which attracts, traps or retains water, including many allergens and irritants, which are common among many skin care brands, particularly those which are labeled "botanical," "natural" or marketed for day spa and beauty salon use.

Even lactic and glycolic acid, which can be extremely irritating, causing stinging and burning, are regarded as superior moisturizers.

You have to ask yourself: what am I doing for my skin by using a particular product?

If the answer is you don't know or you cannot get a credible unbiased explanation as to its benefit, then you should consider not using that product.

When you apply moisturizer to the surface of the skin, despite it being a cosmetic, you nevertheless make an artificial intervention to its function.

Question: Can Moisturizers Be Harmful?: A simple repetitive lip balm application can demonstrate some of the possible deleterious effects of moisturizers on rosacea and in care of healthy skin.

Moisturizing Changes Skin Function

When all you do is moisten or seal the skin's surface it often becomes more dry within.

This motivates patients to apply more moisturizer with the belief that they have "dry skin."

"Dry skin" is a broad cosmetic and marketing term and not a narrow diagnosis for which there is a specific treatment.

Moisturizing may seem benign, however studies show that popular moisturizers actually increase the skin's susceptibility to drying out and vulnerability to irritants which worsen rosacea.

The same moisturizers frequently also contain irritants.

If you've been moisturizing faithfully it's more likely than not that you've been making your rosacea worse.

The Lip Balm Demonstration

You can demonstrate the moisturizer paradox quickly and safely on your lips.

Apply a simple lip balm (such as Vaseline lip balm, containing petrolatum as its main or only ingredient) ~5x/day for several days.

You'll soon discover you have dry lips and feel inclined to apply more and more lip balm.

The dryness you create is the result of preventing the evaporation of water at the skin's surface in a manner which has lead to undesirable changes in its function.

Using the lip balm leads the body into reducing normal maintenance functions which give rise to healthy skin.

The Shower/Bath Demonstration

The purpose of moisturizer is to attract and retain water for skin care benefits, so it seems reasonable to deduce that being drenched by or soaking in water would greatly improve the health of your skin.

The opposite is true. The longer you spend in the shower or bath the more likely you are to have dry and prune-like skin.

Patients with eczema, dermatitis and other skin conditions are routinely advised to minimize the time they spend bathing.

Think Before You Apply

One of the most common pieces of advice we dispense is to STOP using various skin care products.

Marketing and traditional beauty practices drive many skin care behaviours which are paradoxically unhealthy.

If you were to cease your moisturizer use your skin may feel more dry for a while, but in the presence of more ideal skin care in general it would soon become naturally hydrated.

Moisturizers can keep dead skin cells from shedding by causing them to stick to the surface of the skin, creating a dry and rough texture.

Moisturizing For Net Gains In Skin Health

Although many moisturizers are ultimately counterproductive, relieving dryness and promoting natural levels of hydration can improve the skin's cosmetic appearance and comfort.

Patients need to source products which hydrate the skin and provide long-term, sustainable benefits rather than transient stop-gap solutions.

If you use a product with a moisturizing function it should be adapted to enhancing the skin's barrier function, not just coating it.

Ideally, it would also provide additional benefits to rosacea, such as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

Suitable Rosacea Moisturizers

The Rosacea Treatment Fluid and Rosacea Treatment Cream contain ceramides which encourage skin to become inherently and durably hydrated and help restore a normal flush response in combination with anti-inflammatories, antioxidants and other treatment factors.

Further Information

See How To Reduce Redness and Calm Skin and Repair Your Skin's Barrier to Treat Redness and Flushing.

Moisturizer: The Big Lie — Tara Ariano.

Changes in skin barrier function following long-term treatment with moisturizers, a randomized controlled trial — Department of Medical Sciences, Dermatology and Venereology, University Hospital, Uppsala, Sweden.

Effect of long-term use of moisturizer on skin hydration, barrier function and susceptibility to irritants — Department of Dermatology, Gentofte Hospital, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

The inherent capacitance of moisturising creams: A source of false positive results? — Department of Dermatology, Bispebjerg Hospital, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Role of topical emollients and moisturizers in the treatment of dry skin barrier disorders — ACO Hud AB, Stockholm, Sweden.

A review of the Pevonia RS2 Products for Rosacea.


Author: Peter Wilson.

Reviewed: Thursday, December 5, 2013.


Further Information: Intensive Night Nurturing Complex : Treatment Fluid : Treatment Cream : Cooling Stress Lotion : Moisturizers Containing Niacinamide Benefit Rosacea : Question: Can Moisturizers Be Harmful? :




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