How to Find a Moisturizer That Is Right for You

Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery When choosing a moisturizer, you'll want to consider your skin type, how old you are and where you live. See more getting beautiful skin pictures.
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Take a stroll down the skin care aisle in your local drugstore. There are so many options for moisturizing and renewing your skin that -- depending on your personality -- you'll either feel like a kid in a candy store or be extremely overwhelmed. The shelves are filled with facial lotions, body lotions, wrinkle creams and rejuvenating solutions -- not to mention highly priced anti-aging serums. Each product makes its own claims, promising to repair, prevent, smooth or reverse the signs of aging.

Before you add a few wrinkles to your brow trying to choose among these products, it might be helpful to learn more about the benefits of various types of moisturizers and what kind of protection you need, specifically. Understanding a little about the ingredients moisturizers contain, what kind of skin you have and other factors that impact your skin can help you zero in on the best product for you.

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First and foremost, the main purpose of a moisturizer is to help add hydration to your skin and keep it there -- but how moisturizers do that varies from product to product [source: Mayo Clinic]. Learning how to read the label and identify key ingredients can help you figure out how each product works.

Next, you need to match products to your personal needs. Consider whether your skin is prone to acne or dry patches, or whether it is a mix of oily and dry skin. Think also about how your skin responds to perfumes or other additives such as preservatives. If you find, for example, that you break out in a rash at the drop of a hat, you probably have sensitive skin that needs special care.

You'll also want to consider how old you are and where you live. Your skin will get drier and require more intense moisturizing as you age, so you'll need to re-assess your moisturizer needs occasionally [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Both what season it is and the climate in which you live will also play a role in what type of moisturizer you choose, since the amount of moisture in the air affects how much moisture you have in your skin.

Read on to learn more about the different types of moisturizers and what they can do for your skin, and find out what to look for when you're scanning the list of ingredients on the label.

Types of Moisturizers

Moisturizers can be grouped into several broad categories: those for a specific skin type, those designed for day or night, those that offer added benefits and those designed for specific parts of your body. All moisturizers provide a temporary barrier that protects the stratum corneum, or the top layer of skin, allowing it to repair itself. The stratum corneum is 30 percent water, so maintaining that level is important for healthy-looking skin [source: Schwartz].

Many moisturizers contain humectants and emollients. Humectants draw water from the air to your skin and help keep it there. This works well if you live in a very humid climate, but is not as effective in dry weather. Urea, glycerin and alpha hydroxy acids are examples of humectants.

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Emollients sink into the spaces between skins cells where they help replace lipids, or fats, which make skin look healthier. Emollients are oils from plants, minerals or animals. Shea butter, cocoa butter, petrolatum, cholesterol and silicones are all emollients. Water-based moisturizers (which contain smaller amounts of oil dissolved in water) are lighter and non-greasy, but don't last as long as oil-based moisturizers [source: Mayo Clinic].

Moisturizers for oily skin are oil-free, for obvious reasons. Formulations for dry skin, on the other hand, specifically contain oil-based ingredients such as petrolatum. Products for sensitive skin may be free of preservatives, dyes, scents or lanolin -- the worst offenders for causing irritation. Night creams are heavier than day creams to give you eight-hour protection.

Body lotion may seem similar to face lotion, but there are some key differences. If you run out of body lotion, it's fine to use your face cream on other areas, but the opposite isn't necessarily true. Body lotions may not be formulated to use near your eyes, and lotions designed specifically for trouble spots like elbows are often too heavy for your face.

Finally, moisturizers may have various additional ingredients that offer more potential benefits, such as vitamins, minerals and plant extracts. For daytime use, it may be wise to select a moisturizer that includes sunscreen.

With all these ingredient options, you need to consider what your personal needs are before making a purchase. Read on to learn how to determine your skin type and choose a product that fits it best.

Skin Types and Moisturizers

Your skin has its own unique needs, which can change over time. So before you open your wallet to shell out for expensive products, take some time to consider what your skin is telling you.

If you often notice cracking, flaking, itching and premature wrinkling, you probably have dry skin. To keep it looking its best, choose an oil-based lotion. Check the label for petrolatum or another emollient as one of the top three ingredients. Steer clear of alcohol-based products, which will dry out your skin.

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If you have oily skin, you probably already know it. By midday, your face is shiny or greasy-looking. You may need a water-based moisturizer that won't add any more oil to your skin, but will protect your stratum corneum.

You're lucky if you have normal skin -- a complexion that is neither oily nor dry. Try using a light, water-based moisturizer to keep it that way.

If you're prone to oiliness in the "T-zone" (on your forehead, nose and chin), but the rest of your skin is normal or dry, you have combination skin. Use a lighter cream, and make sure you wash your T-zone with a non-drying cleanser [source: Discovery Health].

If you have acne-prone skin, look for an oil-free product that is non-comedogenic, which means it won't block your pores. Some moisturizers also contain anti-bacterials which will help prevent breakouts [source: WebMD].

No matter what skin type you have, one thing is certain: Its needs will change. For example, once you hit your 30s, you may begin to notice age spots or some sun damage. It may help to use a light moisturizer with sunscreen during these years, or even earlier. If you notice fine lines, try a cream with retinol for nighttime. In your 40s, your skin begins to thin and become less elastic, which could mean more wrinkles. Try using a moisturizer with antioxidants in the morning and stick with the retinol at night. In your 50s and beyond, choose a heavier moisturizer, and look for something that contains vitamin K to address circles under your eyes caused by thinning skin.

Read on to learn what to look for when you test-drive a moisturizer.

Testing Moisturizers

You have just learned that the type of moisturizer you should use depends upon multiple factors, including your skin type, age and where you live. Now that you've narrowed down your search to one category of moisturizer, you still have to decide which of the many products available in that category will work best for you. Reviews may be helpful, but only you have your skin, so your best bet is to try a few out for yourself.

Before you buy a moisturizer, smell it. Yes, seriously. You're going to have that scent on your body all day every day, so make sure it's a scent you like, or else you won't use it. Then, if you like it, try it on like perfume. Your body chemistry will alter the scent, so make sure you also like it once it's on you.

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That brings you to the next step, which is more important than the first for your skin's health: Patch test the lotion. If you've tried it on in the store, you have taken the first step, but you would be wise to give it 24 hours before buying the product. This is especially true if there are any ingredients in the moisturizer that haven't graced your skin before. Obviously, if it itches, burns, gives you a rash or changes your skin in any way except to make it more moist, suppler and younger-looking, don't buy it.

Finally, make sure the lotion absorbs well into your skin and feels good, too. You don't want to wait around for 20 minutes in the morning to get dressed because your moisturizer will rub off on your clothes. If it leaves your skin feeling greasy, don't buy it [source: Berg].

For more information on skin moisturizers, follow the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Mature Skin." (Accessed 9/5/09)http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/sun_mature.html
  • Berg, Rona, Anja Kroencke and Deborah Jaffe. "Beauty: The New Basics." 2001. (Accessed 9/6/09) http://books.google.com/books?id=qAVvUjfza9gC&pg=PA49&dq=benefits+of+facial+steam&lr=&ei=9buySuCGBZiWNeu_hLMD&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=benefits%20of%20facial%20steam&f=false
  • Chapas, Dr. Anne. "Are Ultra-Expensive Creams Worth the Price?" Huffington Post. 9/12/07. (Accessed 9/6/09)http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-chapas/are-ultraexpensive-creams_b_64119.html
  • Discovery Health. "What's Your Skin Type?" (Accessed 9/6/09)http://health.discovery.com/centers/healthbeauty/solutions/skintype.html
  • Goldstein, Jennifer. "The Right Moisturizer for Smooth Skin in Your 30s, 40s, 50s." Health. 8/25/09 (Accessed 9/6/09)http://living.health.com/2009/08/25/soft-smooth-skin-at-35-45-55/
  • Mayo Clinic. "Moisturizers: Options for Softer Skin." (Accessed 8/12/09)http://mayoclinic.com/health/moisturizers/SN00042
  • Schwartz, Dr. Robert A., Santiago A. Centurion and Isabelle Thomas. "Moisturizers." 8/29/09. (Accessed 9/5/09)http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1067211-overview
  • Wadyka, Sally. "New Ways to Moisturize Those Brittle Nails." New York Times. 4/6/06. (Accessed 9/6/09)http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/06/fashion/thursdaystyles/06skin2.html
  • WebMD. "Cosmetic Procedures: Skin Care for Acne-Prone Skin." (Accessed 9/6/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/cosmetic-procedures-skin-care-acne-prone-skin