Let’s start today with some phrases I’ve seen online recently about oils that hydrate the skin:
- When describing rosehip seed oil on Nylon.com: “…the cold-pressed oil not only hydrates skin, but replenishes it with revitalizing vitamins…” (Nylon also states in the same article that jojoba oil provides the skin with “instant hydration”)
- In an article about whether lotion or oil is better on Rodale’s Organic Life: “We Americans are lotion lovers. But in Europe and other parts of the world, oil is actually the more popular option for hydrating dry skin.”
- In an ingredient showcase about coconut oil, AnnMarie Skincare starts with this statement: “coconut oil is an abundant source of fatty acids that are uniquely formed to deeply moisturize, hydrate, and condition the skin.”
I’m going to come across as really nit-picky here–I realize that.
But you know how it feels when you have a pet peeve and it keeps coming up over and over again? It’s kind of the same feeling as when you hear fingernails scratching on a chalkboard. Although since chalkboards are now obsolete, I realize I’m taking a risk that if you’re a young millennial, you won’t know what that sounds like. So here it is for you just in case:
Anyway, that’s the reaction I get when I see or hear claims that oils hydrate the skin! Why, you ask? Because…
Oils don’t hydrate the skin!
OK now that we’re all on the same page, I’ll explain why statements that oil hydrates the skin irks me. It’s because oils don’t hydrate! They don’t hydrate because are anhydrous, meaning they don’t contain any water. Oils, like other anhydrous lipids (butters, waxes) bring moisture to the skin, but not water. They nourish, they lubricate, and they form a protective lipid barrier on the surface of the skin to help keep water in, but since they don’t contain any water themselves, they do not actually moisturize by hydrating.
Oils, butters, and waxes fall under the category of moisturizers known as emollients. They are very important, and are highly beneficial to the skin.
Since the skin’s barrier is comprised of a lipid matrix, it’s more likely that antioxidants, vitamins, and essential fatty acids will reach the deeper layers of the skin than those nutrients found in an aqueous (water based or water containing) substance would. That’s because water can’t easy penetrate a lipid, and it also has the tendency to evaporate before it can provide benefit. That’s not to say that water-containing ingredients don’t benefit the skin–but it’s much harder for them to do so.
Only ingredients that contain water can hydrate the skin or bring water into the skin. Ingredients such as water itself (I prefer distilled water in skincare products), botanical infusions (that’s a fancy term for herbal tea), hydrosols, flower waters, or aqueous (water soluble) botanical extracts are considered hydrators. Ingredients such as aloe vera gel, biowaters and bioferments, hyaluronic acid, and glycerine are strong hydrators because they are humectants–they moisturize by attracting water from the environment into the skin which increases skin hydration. Humectants are all hydrators, but not all hydrators are humectants.
To properly hydrate the skin, you need three things:
- Internal hydration (remember skin cells are built inside the body, not outside)
- External hydration with products that contain hydrators and humectants
- A strong lipid barrier both inside at the cellular level and outside on the surface to help prevent both cellular water loss and transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
Skin hydration inside and out
To achieve optimum skin hydration, I recommend drinking lots of filtered water and eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. I also recommend adding healthy fats to your diet, which help fortify cellular membranes to prevent cellular water loss.
On the outside, you’ll want a skincare regiment that consists of both water and oil-based products. If you’re a cream and lotion kind of gal, look for ones that contain hydrators, humectants, and emollients. If you have dry or dehydrated skin or it’s cold and dry outside, you might consider adding an oil serum on top to further seal moisture in. If you’re someone who avoids creams and lotions, I recommend hydrating the skin using facial steams, herbal compresses, or hydrosols (after cleansing) and then immediately following with your facial oil.
So to recap…
Oils don’t hydrate the skin. The only they can increase skin hydration is by helping to seal existing moisture in the skin–not by adding more. So there you go.
Do you have questions or thoughts about skin hydration?
Go ahead and ask and share in the comments below. And next time you hear someone say to use a hydrating oil for your skin, please share this article with them 🙂
*Photo credit Spa Pantry by Universal Companies