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What does moisturiser do for you skin and what should you look for when buying one?


What does moisturiser do for you skin and what should you look for when buying one?
It's possibly the most well known and adopted skincare item, but plenty of us use moisturiser without understanding the finer detail of how our skin benefits. 

By 2025, the global skincare market is estimated to be worth US$189 billion, with a fair share of that spent on moisturiser. So why do we love moisturisers so much?

One of the reasons for its wide uptake is that it has a long history in softening and caring for our skin. It’s widely reported inhabitants of ancient Egypt and Greece used oils and honey or beeswax to nourish their skin and the evolution of skincare has happened all over the world and spanned centuries since.

Still popular today, brands like Ponds (cold cream was invented in 1905 in the USA), Nivea (1911 in Germany), Shiseido (1918 in Japan) were making moisturiser over 100 years ago

Because everyone has slightly different skin in terms of age, oil production, sensitivity and hydration levels, what we should be using varies. 

What does moisturiser do?

CeraVe AU Partner Dermatologist Dr. Ryan De Cruz, founder of Southern Dermatology, says applying moisturiser has two key roles – hydration and protection –  that enhance skin’s health and function.

“Moisturisers draw water to the skin to rehydrate it from the deeper dermis to the superficial epidermis. Hydration enhances cellular function, and promotes health and vitality through complex anti-inflammatory pathways.“

Secondly, he says moisturising repairs the skin’s protective surface barrier. 

“By sealing the ‘gaps’ in between skin cells [in the structure of the skin’s barrier, or stratum corneum] , there is less water loss (evaporation) and fewer environmental particles that penetrate the skin surface such as bacteria, viruses, dust, grasses and pollens. A strong, healthy skin barrier is critical for everyday life, and particularly so in people who suffer from a range of skin conditions.”

As Vanessa Feehan- Meldrum, Sothy’s National Technical Trainer points out, skin has a big role, protecting your organs underneath, so keeping it strong and healthy is an obvious priority. 

“Our skin is the interface between the body and the external environment,” she says. 

“Your moisturiser plays a role in the protection of skin – maintaining its nourishment, hydration and support.  Our skin is aggressed daily and needs to have a level of protection from different free radicals [caused by] environment, lifestyle and stress.”

For every day: Cerave Facial Moisturising Lotion
For night: Sothy’s Noctuelle Renovative Night Cream
For a lightweight feel: Murad Hydro-Dynamic Ultimate Moisture
For oily skin: Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream
For dry skin: Sunday Riley Ice Ceramide Moisturising Cream

Twice a day application

Most experts agree moisturiser should be applied to cleansed skin at both ends of the day. If you’re using other skincare products, consider the order of application to ensure you get the most from each item. 

“Moisturiser should be applied after a serum and before your SPF and makeup, advises Linda Sharrem, Skincare Educator at Caci.

“Your serum’s main function is to treat the skin and tends to be a lighter texture and infused with high performance ingredients that need to penetrate deeper into the skin. Your moisturiser will help to seal the serum in and enhance your results.”

She says beware of slathering too much on. “More product does not mean more results, it is about consistency of application. The general rule for moisturiser is a pea size warmed gently on fingers and then applied to the face – AM and PM, everyday!

One non-negotiable rule is that sun protection should always be applied as the last skincare step after moisturiser, or it may dilute the sunscreen and alter its efficacy.

Moisturiser for oily skin

While it might seem counterintuitive to layer a hydrating moisturiser on already-oily skin, every skin type needs to moisturise.

“It is not uncommon for a skin therapist to hear that a person with oily skin or acne doesn’t use a moisturiser,” says Feehan- Meldrum. “They believe this will only make skin shinier or more oily.  This is incorrect. A correct assessment of the skin will enable [help in identifying] the correct moisturiser formulation for these skin concerns.  We would look to use ingredients that support the skin microbiome, hydration and healing. If moisturiser is left out it can contribute to the skin becoming oilier or slow healing.”

Advanced ingredients

Moisturisers can have very simple formulations or more advanced combined formulas intended to tackle issues (like pigmentation and wrinkles) beyond basic hydration or protection. 

At the very least they should have ingredients that help the skin hold on to water as well as strengthening the natural lipids or oils in the skin’s barrier. 

“Hyaluronic Acid and Essential Fatty Acids are vital ingredients in moisturisers to hydrate and maintain a strong lipid barrier, explains Linda Sharrem. “I always look for a nice base like Shea Butter with Vitamin E and Antioxidants like Resveratrol. Moisturisers can also be mini treatments and enhance the benefits of your serum. You can have Vitamin C and E for the day, Vitamin A (Retinol) in your night cream and for acne-prone skin, moisturisers containing salicylic acid to help keep the skin clear. “

Ceramides are lipids that are found naturally in high concentrations in the uppermost layers of skin, so using a moisturiser with them can help maintain that natural barrier.

Dr De Cruz is a partner dermatologist for affordable skincare brand CeraVe, and recommends ceramides for all skin types, but especially for dry, sensitive or compromised skin.

CeraVe was created after US dermatologists noticed that many skin conditions such as dry skin, eczema and acne-prone skin all had one thing in common – a deficiency in skin ceramides and in turn, a compromised skin barrier.

“Ceramides have the greatest amount of scientific evidence than any other ingredient, to effectively rehydrate the skin, and strengthen the skin barrier. Moisturisers that contain SPF, and niacinamide (Vitamin B3), are great optional extras as both play important roles in protecting the skin from UV radiation and inflammation.”

Texture considerations

“Everyone’s skin is different and has different needs so this is an important step in purchasing a moisturiser,” says Feehan- Meldrum.

”Skin that is oiler and has more shine will probably need a lighter moisturiser that feels comfortable and doesn’t weigh heavy on the skin. However drier or aging skin will require more support so more nourishment and hydration. As we age our skin cell turnover slows and our skin doesn’t produce the ceramides and hydration as in our younger years. This is the time to reassess what your skin needs and may be a time to use a thicker formulation for dry or very dry skin. “

Sharrem says a general rule of thumb is that gel textures are more suited for oily or combination skin, water based for blemish-prone skin and nourishing moisturisers and oils are best suited for dryer skin types.

Texture selection can also be adjusted based on the season, where lighter gel textures and lotions can be more comfortable in hot temperatures and as harsh weather can impede your skin’s barrier, a richer cream may be useful in cooler months. 

Traditionally night creams have been thicker in consistency as they are designed to deeply hydrate and we don’t have considerations like shine or makeup to worry about as in the daytime, but these days using a lighter consistency at night is fine if you prefer it. 


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