Some marketers would tell us that everyone, women and men, old and young and in between, people in desert dry climates and people in rainy snowy climates, needs a skin moisturizer all year round. Many of us really do need moisturizers, but not all the time. Here's how to choose.
Dry skin is a condition that is as simple as it sounds. Dry skin is caused by an absence of moisture in the very outermost layers of the skin. Typically drying of the skin is combined with a failure of the skin's intercellular matrix to make the sebum that keeps skin lubricated.
Sebum, in the right amounts and moving through pores freely, acts something like a raincoat. This healthy natural skin oil keeps irritants and water out and natural fluids in.
Why would you want to keep water out of your skin? The problem is temperature. Your skin, like the rest of your body, operates best at its internal temperature of about 98.6 degrees F. Cells that are too hot or too cold operate poorly or quickly die. That's why letting hot water or cold water into the intercellular matrix of natural fluids between skin cells damages the skin.
How can you tell if you need to moisturize?
If you use a gentle skin cleaner, and you do not use any other inflammatory or irritating skin care products, and your skin feels dry several minutes after you wash, you should use a moisturizer. If you use any kind of skin care product that makes your skin tingle or burn, then the problem is that skin care product, not the absence of moisturizer. Stop using products that make your skin itch, redden, tingle, or burn before you begin to moisturize.
Also, if you skin feels dry, tight, or uncomfortable from low humidity by noon, or at the end of the day, you need to make use of a moisturizer. It will improve fine lines, especially around the eyes. The thing to remember is, when it comes to moisturizers, lighter is better. You want gentle hydration of your skin, not globs of cream dripping oil.
Should you use a product with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)? These natural healing ingredients gently lift the outer layers of dead skin as the lower levels are stimulated and hydrated. What you want to avoid is stimulating the lower, basal layer of the skin too much. Don't use alpha-hydroxy acids if you have a problem with red, itchy, or especially, psoriatic skin.
And it's also important to consider that several chronic skin conditions cause dry skin but are not brought under control just by moisturizing: eczema, actinic keratosis (pre-cancers of the skin caused by sun exposure), and skin cancer demand medical attention. And flaking skin after sunburn heals faster with the help of moisturizer plus AHAs.