There are plenty of factors that determine just how dry your skin can get. Your genes play a role, as do environmental issues. And of course how you handle your skin can cause dehydration damage, too. But recently, experts have put increased emphasis on the importance of your skin’s barrier layer—found in the outermost layer of skin—and how its health affects moisture levels in your skin, from head to toe. “We are just beginning to better understand the composition and function of this very important element of our tissue,” says research scientist Dr. Alan Wohlman, science director for the Trilipid Research Institute and researcher at The State University of New York at Stony Brook. What is known, though: “The more effectively the barrier functions, the less likely we are to experience excessively dry skin.
To keep this crucial layer of skin in top shape, and thus help your skin stay hydrated, the most important thing is to choose your moisturizer wisely, says Wohlman.
The barrier layer is made up of tissue that is rich in lipids like cholesterol, ceramides and long-chain fatty acids. “In the event the barrier is destroyed or reduced, topical addition of these materials can help rebuild the barrier,” according to Wohlman. This explains why many new moisturizers are made using plant-derived lipids that mimic those found in the human body. Try Trilipiderm All-Body Natural Moisturizing Créme ($24.95, trilipiderm.com), with a combination of plant-derived lipids and oils to balance oil and moisture levels in skin. CeraVe Moisturizing Cream ($14.99, dermstore.com), contains a blend of ceramides to restore barrier function.
Not only are lipid-rich creams and lotions a boon to skin’s barrier function, they also tend to be more easily absorbed by the skin. “Greasy skin ointments that contain ingredients like lanolin and mineral oil can lock water into the skin, however they are not cosmetically favorable to many people,” says Dr. Glenn Kolansky, a dermatologist in Red Bank, NJ. Moisturizers that contain lipids trap moisture into the outer layers of skin without leaving skin slick and oily.