Since the skin is the largest and most exposed organ in the body, it deserves special attention. Everyday, it braves the elements to insulate and protect our insides and keep us looking great on the outside. Remembering skin care for the face and neck isn't difficult, since we're reminded every time we check ourselves in the mirror. But, in fact, the areas of our body that are most prone to dryness are the lower legs, arms, sides and thighs. Taking the time to address those trouble spots and adequately moisturizing from the neck downward requires more conscious effort, yet doing so will pay off in spades as the skin maintains its youthful luster longer.
Uncomfortable, dry skin is more common in the winter when humidity in the air is lower, but it's important to lather on the lotion everyday. These five tips will help you find a daily body moisturizer to keep your skin smooth and supple year-round.
Know Your Moisturizers
There are two main classifications of body moisturizers: occlusives and humectants. Occlusives block water from evaporating from skin cells, while humectants draw more water toward the surface of the skin from inner layers. Petrolatum (a.k.a. petroleum jelly) and lanolin are two of the most effective occlusive agents found in many daily body moisturizers. These daily skin care formulas provide a longer-lasting barrier against water loss from the skin. Lanolin can cause an allergic reaction in some people, however. Vitamin and botanical oils are among some of the newer natural ingredients showing up in body lotions that dermatologists recommend for their hydrating effects as well. These include vitamin E, argan, safflower, olive and walnut oils [source: Wright].
Humectants can also combat dry skin. These are usually oil-free and include ingredients such as glycolic acid, urea and lactic acid. Unlike occlusives that merely stop water from exiting the skin, humectants can penetrate the skin to improve water-retention [source: Fordyce].
Try Antioxidants for Irritated Skin
Dermatologists and skin care companies are abuzz with excitement over antioxidants. These natural substances protect cells from damage-inducing free radical molecules. Research has also shown that antioxidants can stimulate new skin cell growth. Because of these protective qualities, manufacturers are including antioxidants in more daily facial and body moisturizers as a soothing element for irritated skin and to safeguard against the sun's ultraviolet rays. A few antioxidant-rich ingredients to look for include green tea, pomegranate and resveratol [source: Wright].
Before you purchase a daily body moisturizer, check the ingredient list and see how far down that antioxidant-toting additive is. The lower on the ingredient list, the less of it there is and the less effective it will be. Consider aloe vera, for instance. Many people recognize its anti-inflammatory properties, but most cosmetics don't contain enough of it to make a substantial difference [source: Carlson, Eisenstat and Ziporyn].
Don't Spend More for Useless Ingredients
Since collagen fibers in the dermis give your skin that taut, youthful appearance, they can only improve a daily body moisturizer, right? Not quite. Moisturizer manufacturers may advertise collagen-enriched formulas, but dermatological research hasn't found any evidence that the protein improves skin condition [source: Carlson, Eisenstat and Ziporyn]. In fact, collagen molecules are simply too large to penetrate the epidermis to work their supposed magic [source: Goldberg and Harriot]. Yeast extracts, which are thought to smooth wrinkles, and liposomes and cerebrosides, meant to mimic the skin's production of moisture-binding essential fats, are similarly ineffective.
Pick Something You Like
This tip may seem like a no-brainer, but it's an important one to follow. In order for a body moisturizer to do its job in the long run, you need to integrate it into your daily skin care regimen. After all, if you don't like slathering on a butter-thick formula or hate the wafting scent of a lavender lotion that follows you around until lunchtime, you probably aren't going to use it everyday. It may take some experimenting and sampling to figure out what agrees the most with your senses and your skin, but stick with it. Remember: Daily body moisturizers can't reverse the signs of aging skin. Instead, they delay them, so the earlier you start, the more benefits you'll reap.
Don't Forget About the Sun
The sun is your skin's arch enemy. Even in the wintertime, when you may not feel the heat of the sun, those dangerous rays are just as harmful. Over time, UVA and UVB rays break down the collagen in the dermis, leaving you with wrinkly, tough skin. Moreover, skin cancer in the United States is on the rise, especially among women under 40 [source: Healy]. For that reason, using a daily body moisturizer and sunscreen combo is the smart way to go. In order to block both A and B types of ultraviolet radiation, check labels for more that just SPF. An SPF of at least 15 will protect against UVA rays, and you'll also want the lotion to contain zinc oxide, octinoxate or oxybenzone for additional UVB defense [source: Lyon]. Preventative care like this is essential for maintaining healthy skin in the long run because once sun damage sets in, you can't turn back the clock.
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- Beers, Mark H. and Jones, Thomas V. "The Merck Manual of Health & Aging." Random House, Inc. 2005. (Aug. 4, 2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=lnfLu_UWJnIC&dq=glycolic+acid+dry+skin&lr=&client=firefox-a&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Carlson, Karen J.; Eistenstat, Stephanie A.; and Ziporyn, Terra Diane. "The New Harvard Guide to Women's Health." Harvard University Press. 2004. (Aug. 4, 2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=Qt4QYzrGyvMC&dq=guide+to+skin+care&client=firefox-a&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Fordyce, Moira. "Dry Skin." The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging." (Aug. 4, 2009)http://www.healthinaging.org/public_education/pef/dry_skin.php
- Goldberg, David J. and Herriot, Eva M. "Secrets of Great Skin." Innova Publishing. 2005. (Aug. 4, 2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=DLWW1bTnVGIC&dq=cerebrosides+moisturizers&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- Healy, Bernadine. "Skin Deep." U.S. News & World Report. Nov. 6, 2005. (Aug. 4, 2009)http://health.usnews.com/usnews/health/articles/051114/14skin.htm
- Lyon, Lindsay. "Aging Skin Doesn't Have to Be Wrinkled." U.S. News & World Report. Jan. 28, 2009. (Aug. 4, 2009)http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/baby-boomer-health/2009/01/28/aging-skin-doesnt-have-to-be-wrinkled.html
- Wright, Suzanne. "Natural Skin Care Product: An Up-Close Look." WebMD. (Aug. 4, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/features/beyond-first-blush-an-upclose-look-at-natural-skin-care-products