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Moisture Addict. Does our skin get addicted to moisturisers?

January 29, 2010

I love it when I get asked a question that I can’t answer straight up because it gives me an opportunity to go digging around in the depths of my fellow scientists brain cells in search of answers and so when this question came up I got e-mailing!

I was asked by one of my Watershed “Natural Personal Care” attendees if there is any truth in the notion that using moisturisers makes the skin a bit lazy and can moisturisers even become addictive? Being a “Think while you talk” kind of girl I immediately said that this probably wasn’t true and it was most probably a psychological ‘addiction’ rather than a physiological one as we all love the feel of silky soft, moisturised skin. However, immediately after saying that I left the door open with a ‘but then on the other hand’ and decided that I too, may be barking up the wrong tree!

It's not addictive, Moisturise!

So, off to my good friend and font of all knowledge Gavin who replied with the following  “If moisture in the skin is incidental to circulation (transpiration) then I would expect the application of a moisturiser to be additive.  If conversely, skin moisturisation is functional, then a feed-back regulatory process may well be involved in which case long-term, continuous moisturisation use would be contraindicated”

Coming to the conclusion that: “A regimen of intermittent use, might happily be recommended, in the absence of any compelling data or understanding”

So, with no concrete conclusion we asked another well respected cosmetic chemist,  Johan.

“To your question on can skin become lazy due to the use of skin moisturisers. Yes, this is a popular belief on the internet and not completely incorrect although the wording ‘lazy’ is completely wrong. Just like ‘skin breathes’ whereas there are no longs in skin.”
 and then….

“If your skin is dry and you apply occluding cosmetic ingredients like neat mineral oil or neat paraffin that occlude the skin too much, you will have enough water in the skin and therefore enzymes are switched off and NMF is no longer being formed. Because it is no longer needed! You stop using these products and you are in deep trouble. So, people keep on using this non-stop. A famous example is people using non-stop lip balm. The skin is not lazy, but not working because it has too much water. In their simplicity, people think that mineral oil is therefore bad. This is incorrect. Pure mineral oil is bad because it is too occlusive but mineral oil in a product can give it just the right level of semi-occlusivity.”

Aha, we seem to be getting somewhere. So what does the Joggler Perry Romanowski think about all of this?  I asked him on Twitter and he replied in 140 characters or less “They are not physically addictive but can interfere with signals that tell skin to make new cells”

So there you have it!  A simple question with a kind of complex answer (and that’s why I love science).

Moisturisers that are not fully occlusive (i.e they let your skin breathe) are probably fine to use on a long term basis but if you have ‘normal’ to ‘oily’ skin you may be just as well to give your skin a break every now and then to keep it on its toes.

Have fun and if you want more information on skin moisturization may we recomend this article from Johan: Vernix Caseosa published by Cosmetics and Toiletries in August 2009.

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