The skin is our largest organ and has many important functions including regulating body temperature, acting as a barrier and preventing harmful microorganisms and toxins form getting inside the body. The first layer of skin is called the epidermis. The top layer of the epidermis is called the stratum corneum which consists of flat, dead protein filled cells mixed with fat and water to create a brick and mortar like structure. This layer is responsible for retaining moisture and protects us from toxins, bacteria, and ultraviolet rays. Unfortunately, our skin weakens and becomes thinner as we age. Older skin has less water content, less fat and elasticity. Sun exposure and certain medications, such as steroids (topical, oral and inhaled) can also adversely affect the integrity of the skin. Soap and solvents including alcohol can dry and damage the skin by stripping away fats. We are all washing and cleansing our hands more now because of the COVID Pandemic which can cause the skin of our hands to be dryer with cracks and tears. While COVID isn’t contracted through the skin, certain bacteria can cause infections requiring antibiotics and occasionally hospitalization. The simple remedy is to apply the right type of moisturizer regularly. The best moisturizers have three main components to help restore the skin’s integrity including:
- Occlusives for barriers to limit water loss from the stratum corneum (eg: petrolatum, mineral oil, lanolin)
- Emollients provide softness and smooth texture (eg: dimethicone, cyclomethicone, jojoba oil)
- Humectants promote water absorption from the dermis and environment into the stratum corneum ( eg glycerin, hyaluronic acid, sodium and ammonium lactate)
Moisturizer ingredients are listed in decreasing order of concentration on the product package. The items noted above should be present within the first 5 ingredients. Other valuable ingredients include various fats, anti-oxidants, and sunscreens. Fortunately, there are many reasonably priced OTC moisturizers available from reputable companies. Finally, drinking excessive amounts of water doesn’t help to hydrate the skin!