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Biology 103
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

The True Importance of Moisturizers to Healthy Skin


Facial skin care products are promoted vigorously in the cosmetic industry with claims of tremendous benefit to good, healthy-looking skin. Consumers search for rejuvenation and protection of their largest organ, important on the basic biological level that it acts as a barrier, shielding the body from the environment, as a temperature regulator, as a basic immune defense, and as the sensory organ. However, these consumers generate a huge commercial business for reasons purely aesthetic; the face is simply what others notice first in personal presentation to the world. Functioning within a need to find perfection, consumers crave an easy solution to removing blemishes, fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and all other types of skin care problems. Therefore, the question of how important these products, especially moisturizers, are to healthy skin and what separates these moisturizers becomes worthy of understanding in a market that carries so many different kinds of products, all with different ingredients and all advertising the same positive outcomes.

There exists in the market an elementary understanding of what a proper skin care regimen should consist of, promoted by all companies operating at all price levels. Basically, lines carry products based on different skin types, oily, dry, combination, or sensitive, and then divide treatment into the basic steps of exfoliation, treatment, hydration, and protection (1). Skin moisturizers, then, are an essential step in this routine and they are designed for different skin types to soften the skin, to lubricate "without blocking pores and smothering the skin (2)."

A moisturizer's base is some type of an emulsion of oil and water with another agent, altogether acting to limit the natural evaporation of water from the skin. When the product is an emulsion of water in oil, the oil is more dominant and serves moderately dry skin effectively. When the product is based on oil in water, products are less moisturizing and are formulated for normal to slightly dry skin. Furthermore, products that are purely oil based are best for only for extremely dry skin and completely oil-free products are best for oily to normal skin types (2)

Typically, the other active ingredient is another kind of oil. Natural and essential oils are chosen depending on what vitamins, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and fragrances they bring to the moisturizer (2) These ingredients can be seen in various advertisement campaigns and on various labels, chosen for their function and cost-efficiency. Moisturizers may also contain humectants which prevent water loss by attracting moisture to the skin. These are synthetic forms of phospholipids, which exist naturally as an "evaporative and protective barrier in the outer layer of the epidermis (2). However, these synthetics, forms of glycols such as propylene glycol or glycerin, only work well in environments with sufficient humidity in the air to draw from. Also, these can cause irritation or inflammation because they serve as a barrier, knowing how to both keep moisture in but also knowing how to prevent moisture from entering externally (3)Another ingredient may be liposomes, somewhat of a new development in skincare formulations. These come from phospholipids, have an aqueous core, and can carry vitamins, drugs, and other active ingredients in their phospholipd layers for delivery to the dermis. Since they have a cell membrane-like structure, "they can readily pass through the epidermis and are thought to be accepted into cells of the dermis by membrane fusion (2)What becomes apparent is the amount of chemistry, biology, and technology that enters into the industry of beauty. This serves as a reflection of the want consumers have for the most effective types of products science can give them and their need for the best skin care solutions they can buy easily, with little consideration given to more personal factors that affect healthy skin.

As a result of this focus on consumerism and easy solutions, little attention is given to the idea that lifestyle choices manifest themselves in our physical health and appearance. Nutrition and rest are two basic and easy-to-overlook contributors to healthy skin. Exercise helps the skin since it works to "maintain a clear circulation, calming the nerves and promoting a deeper, more revitalizing sleep (3) Water is obviously necessary for the skin's maintenance of the right amount of moisture as well as a person's general good health (3) These make positive contributions to healthy skin while the following are choices that prove damaging. Smoking deprives skin tissue of oxygen and nutrients through the effects of carbon monoxide and nicotine in the circulatory system, giving a pale complexion and early wrinkles. Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate the skin, the latter being particularly even more damaging by impeding circulation, removing moisture and nutrients, and even leading to broken or distended capillaries (3).

Those who market skin care products, ranging from medical doctors to make-up consultants to fashion houses, gain definite monetary profit by promoting only products and by not acknowledging other factors in good skin care, thus adding complication to the issue. Do consumers really need their products to improve their skin's health? Or is this need merely generated by the beauty industry and dermatology field? For consumers, clearly it becomes a matter of buying a better appearance. They have made this evident by accepting what they are told and by allowing skin care products to become a billion dollar industry (3) ; this market exists because people want it to.

Moisturizers can be beneficial to the skin but those who support this the most and the strongest are those who profit off of them. They can replenish moisture to the skin but may lead to damage as well if a consumer does not understand the role of specific ingredients. They can be effective but lifestyle choices cannot be overlooked in lieu of them. Perhaps what needs to be understood by everyone willing to spend their idea of the right amount on their understanding of the right product is that these lotions and creams cannot serve alone as the key factor to healthy skin.


1)Dermadoctor Website, archived article on the Dermadoctor website, an online source for skincare

2)Altrius Biomedical Network, supported by dermatology community

3) American Academy of Dermatology website , archived article on the American Academy of Dermatology website

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