What is the Best Moisturizer for the Face?
In Part I, “Types of Moisturizers: Everything You Need to Know,” we looked at what moisturizers are, how they work, their health benefits, and how today’s moisturizers do more than just moisturize.
In this post, we’ll take a more in-depth look at moisturizers and talk a bit about which products are probably the best moisturizers for the face — and which you’ll want to avoid.
Applying Vitamins and Antioxidants
While evidence abounds that having a diet rich in vitamins and antioxidants confers health benefits and protects against a variety of illnesses and aliments, the same, unfortunately, cannot be said about taking vitamin and antioxidant supplements (1).
Given the lack of evidence for the health benefits of supplementing with vitamins and antioxidants, does it make sense to put vitamins and antioxidants in moisturizers for the benefit of the skin?
Surprisingly, it turns out that vitamins and antioxidants applied to the skin may indeed help heal and protect it.
For example, derivatives of vitamin A can help repair wrinkles, altered texture, discolored skin, mottled hyperpigmented skin, and epidermal thickness due to photodamage; in addition, these derivatives can increase collagen production improving both the skin’s elasticity and firmness.
Vitamin C and B (niacinamide) work similarly: vitamin C can help repair the skin’s elastic tissue by increasing collagen production, and vitamin B can help repair other damage done to the skin by the sun. Coenzyme Q, alpha lipoic acid, and copper also seem to help repair and protect against sun damage.
There is evidence that combining antioxidants may result in a synergistic effect. For example, research has shown that combining vitamins C, E and ferulic acid helps protect against both sun damage and skin cancer (2).
Other Ingredients that May Help Heal and Protect the Skin
Most moisturizing products have other vitamin and antioxidant substances with purported benefits – we say ‘purported,’ because to date, for most part, there’s scant evidence that these extra ingredients help heal and protect the skin.
- Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) – a compound purported to improve wrinkles. This claim is backed up by some research (3).
- Genistein – an antioxidant purported to protect skin against UVB damage. This claim is also backed up by at least one study, but only for skin cells in cell cultures (4).
- Green tea – another antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that may protect against UV damage and repair photoaging damage. A recent 2013 study (5) has found some evidence for this claim when green tea was combined with lotus extract.
- Growth factors – substances purported to assist in wound healing and to repair sun damaged skin.
- Kinetin – a specific plant growth factor and antioxidant purported to improve skin texture and wrinkles. Scant evidence exists for this claim (6).
- Peptides – an amino acid purported to increase production of collagen and elastin. A 2004 study using a synthetically developed peptide found it had a strong effect in reducing wrinkles (7).
Do You Need a Skin Toner?
Contrary to the name, skin toners will not improve the tone of your skin (for that, you’ll need to use a laser or IPL); instead, skin toners are designed to shrink the appearance of pores, and are meant to be used after cleansing.
So, do you need a skin toner? It depends on the type. For example, as we age, our skin often becomes dryer. In this case, you’ll want to avoid any skin-toning products that contain alcohol or acetone because while they will help firm the skin, they’ll also exacerbate any dryness. Further, some skin toners are also acidic, containing ingredients like citrus, camphor, or menthol. These acidic ingredients can irritate the skin, especially dry, older skin.
To avoid worsening dry skin and minimize irritation, use water and glycerin-based toners as they can help provide extra moisture to the skin.
Avoid Mineral Oil
You’ll want to avoid any moisturizers that contain mineral oil as researchers (8) have found some of those moisturizers have caused skin cancers in hairless mice to grow more rapidly than they otherwise might.
It is important to highlight that the moisturizers tested by these researchers did not cause skin cancer; rather they caused existing skin cancer in UVB irradiated mice to grow faster. This suggest that on non-sun or UVB damaged skin, such moisturizers may be safe to use.
Nevertheless, common sense dictates caution when using the type of moisturizers these researchers tested in their study.
To partially allay any fears that all moisturizers are potentially harmful, the researchers asked the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson to make them a “custom blend” moisturizer without two ingredients previously linked to skin irritation (sodium lauryl sulfate) and tumor promotion (mineral oil). The custom blend (on which Rutgers University and Johnson & Johnson hold a patent) did not promote skin cancer.
- Harvard School of Public Health. Antioxidants: Beyond the Hype.
- L. How to Prevent Photoaging? Journal of Investigative Dermatology (2005), 125.
- Grossman R. The role of dimethylaminoethanol in cosmetic dermatology, Am J Clin Dermatol. 2005; 6(1):39-47.
- Barbara L., Maria L., Franco G., Giuseppe M.,4 and Maria B. Synergic Effect of Genistein and Daidzein on UVB-Induced DNA Damage: An Effective Photoprotective Combination. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology Volume 2011 (2011).
- Mahmood T. and Akhtar N. Combined topical application of lotus and green tea improves facial skin surface parameters. Rejuvenation Res. 2013 Apr; 16(2):91-7.
- Jacquelyn L. and Saira M. How Much Do We Really Know About Our Favorite Cosmeceutical Ingredients? J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Feb 2010; 3(2): 22–41.
- Bauza E., Oberto G., Berghi A., Dal C.F., Domloge N. Collagen-like peptide exhibits a remarkable antiwrinkle effect on the skin when topically applied: in vivo study. Int J Tissue React. 2004; 26(3-4):105-11.
- Yao-Ping Lu, You-Rong Lou, Jian-Guo Xie, Qingyun Peng, Weichung J Shih, Yong Lin and Allan H Conney. Tumorigenic Effect of Some Commonly Used Moisturizing Creams when Applied Topically to UVB-Pretreated High-Risk Mice. Journal of Investigative Dermatology (2009) 129, 468–475