Although our skin should be self moisturizing and naturally contain sufficient oil and water to keep it in top condition, moisturizers have never been so popular. Let’s ask Mrs Everybody how people survived before moisturizer was invented? I’m sure that she will eventually get round to telling us.
For most people moisturizers should be not be necessary because sufficient oil, secreted from the sebaceous glands in the form of sebum will attract water from within the body. These compounds then react with an emulsifier which we naturally produce in the skin, cholesterol, forming a protective film known as the hydrolipid mantle. Cholesterol isn’t all bad. This oily mantle in the upper layer of the skin, if you like, our own personally formulated and produced moisturizing film, works like a team of night club bouncers by allowing water, toxins and carbon dioxide to leave the body while keeping water and pathogens from entering the body and infecting the skin.
However in a person with a dry skin type, the hydrolipid mantle of the skin lacks sufficient oil to bind sufficient water to keep the skin moist. This may be worse in areas of the skin where there are no oil glands such as on the lips. Without the proper management dry skin can look dull flaky and cracked, and feel uncomfortable, itchy and tight. Dry skin is less able to perform its protective functions and as the structure deteriorates, the skin becomes more prone to sensitivity, allergic reactions, infections and premature aging. Like you wanted to hear that bit!
Dietary factors almost certainly play a role in the quality of our skin, as the water and oil present in our skins should originally find its way in our body as food. Certain vitamins, minerals and oils are essential for healthy skin. The skin likes it when we eat Vitamins A, B5, C, E, F; the minerals zinc, copper, sulphur; essential fatty acids; and various other oily compounds from the plant kingdom.
It is best if we can obtain the nutrients through our diet, but if no balance can be obtained between diet and any environmental factors which disturb the hydroliphic mantle of the skin – our frequent hand washing and use of oil stripping detergents, it is necessary to apply oil from the outside. The ancient civilizations in Egypt, Sumeria, Babylon, Crete, China, and later the Greeks and Romans always used cold pressed vegetable oils, but nowadays using oil seems to be the exception. Oil use continues across Arabia and India, well and pretty much where ever oil bearing plants and humans are found on the planet. Luckily, if the diet does not contain sufficient oil, cold pressed plant oil can supply the skin with crucial oil compounds, helping the skin to build its natural protective film.
Moisturizers were only mass produced at the beginning of the last century after scientists had begun synthesizing oils with long names in laboratories, often using base ingredients we would not normally put on the skin such as petroleum oil, pig fat, lard, fish and whale oil. Scientists also had to get busy and synthesize emulsifiers and preservatives too, because most commercial moisturizers, besides containing synthetic oil and water, will have to contain these too. The emulsifiers enable the oil and water to bind together, and as soon as water is added to a cosmetic, preservatives become necessary.
Cold pressed plant oils contain their own natural preservatives. Nearly all of the emulsifiers and preservatives used in commercial cosmetics are artificial. Moisturizers contain water in order to add water from the outside of the skin, but the hydolipid mantle while allowing water and water soluble toxins out of the body, will not let water in. I am glad about that, because if I went for a long soak in the bath, I might end up the shape and consistency of a water balloon. The water in moisturizer evaporates and doesn’t penetrate the skin. The skin uses water from the inside the body.
After the widespread adoption of commercial soap and the more recently acquired habit of showering or bathing in hot chlorinated water everyday, the moisturizer industry took off. Many people have subsequently forgotten about the virtues of oil for reducing dry skin. Yet all across the world in rural areas, households are equipped with mill stones and women proudly make their own oil. I am currently keeping an eye on my olive tree, but it is only three feet tall!
Tips for managing a dry skin
1/ Exfoliate the layers of dead skin. It is impossible to moisturize dead, flaky skin. Use exfoliating soap such as savon noir to make the exfoliation more effective.
2/ Introduce strip washing as the primary washing method, showering or bathing once a week. The idea here is to retain your natural oils and to reduce your exposure to chlorine, known to dry skin.
3/ Reduce the temperature of the water used in washing. It is best to wash the face with cold water. Yes, I thought you’d like that one!
4/ Replace conventional soap with rhassoul clay. Spend longer massaging very dry areas of skin with clay while washing. This really does make a huge difference.
5/ Try using a cold pressed natural vegetable oil, also called a carrier or base oil rather than a moisturizer on the body. Experiment with different oils until you find one you like. Begin with oils that you would accept as food ingredients, i.e. ones which are still named after the plants they are made from. Oils rich in linoleic acid (a compound found in natural plant oils) are very beneficial for dry skins and they include safflower oil, sunflower oil, wheat germ oil or argan oil. A cold pressed plant oil is rich in vitamins, some of which act as powerful antioxidants. Then there are the essential fatty acids which we can not make in the body. The level of moisturization of the skin is directly proportional to the levels of essential fatty acids in the skin. Plant oils also contain unsaturated oils which are anti-microbial helping to prevent common skin infections and components called unsaponifiables, so called because these fats can not be used for making soap. These are the super antioxidants.
6/ If you must use a formulated moisturizer, choose one which contains natural oils over synthetic oils. Synthetic oils have really long unpronounceable names and don’t sound very appetizing. Avoid skin products containing petroleum, mineral oil, liquid paraffin, Parafinnum liquidum, these are all the same thing. Petroleum oil is cheap ingredient, a by product of the petrol refining industry. The skin can not assimilate petroleum oil. This oil is widespread in baby products (baby oil), moisturizers, lip moisturizers and it is even fed to cats to help with fur ball problems. Brushing the cat is the kindest way to help it make fur balls. Petroleum oil produces a temporary moisturising effect, however prolonged contact is implicated in destroying the natural oily barrier of the skin, in destroying the vitamins needed by the skin, and guess what, in causing dryness and rashes. I think I had one once around my mouth. Petroleum oil can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which are potential human carcinogens. If you really can’t contemplate the switch from moisturizer to oil, then try making your own moisturizer with a plant oil! Keep anything oily in glass bottle or jar, as oils will leach plastic.
7/ Moisturize face, neck and hands with a well absorbing oil as often as necessary. Argan oil is the finest and fastest absorbing oil of which I know and the highest in antioxidants. Clicking here will give you a chance to read more about argan oil and to purchase some. New moisturizers are hitting the shops everyday, often with dubious, untraceable and partially tested ingredients. Humans have had thousands of years to work out which how best to hydrate the skin with oils. Among the Phoenicians, the sea traders from the Bronze Age, (active from about 3200 years ago) there was a booming trade through the Moroccan port of Essaouira in precious argan oil and urns of olive and sesame oil were rowed and sailed all over the Mediterranean.
8/ Investigate how dietary improvements such a Palaeolithic, raw food, macro-biotic, vegetarian, vegan or alkaline diets can provide nutrients essential for healthy skin. Or just eat your normal diet with oily fish twice a week, walnuts and other foods rich in healthy oils being sure to obtain the right balance of omega fats. Reducing exposure to alcohol, smoking, sugar and refined foods will help. It would help me too!
9/ Protect your hands from water, detergents and soaps. Once the natural sebum is stripped it takes the skin between 5 and 8 hours to naturally restore the hydrolipic balance. Luckily, the skin has the good sense to accept cold pressed plant oils when they are applied externally and put them to good use. Become an expert in using your chosen oil. Work out the minimum you need and when best to apply it. For example if you apply to much moisturizer or oil on the face at night, then the skin will have trouble getting rid of water and the skin under the eyes will appear puffy in the morning, inversely if you apply less than you need, then the skin will still feel taught in the morning. It’s a question of finding the right balance and only you can work it out. Most people prefer a fine (very free flowing oil) which can be rapidly absorbed by the skin and one which agrees well with the facial skin, whether using make up or not.
10/ Before putting anything on your skin or anyone else’s skin, get out your magnifying glass and read the label. If it contains a long list of chemical ingredients think twice before using it. Nearly one half of the emulsifiers used in conventional cosmetics have caused skin reactions, and many of the preservatives used in conventional moisturizers have been reported as carcinogens. Be aware that chemical products don’t just pollute the bodies of humans, but they also end up in the water sources and indirectly contaminate the planet. Vegetable oils will quite happily biodegrade.
What is clear is that before the use of moisturizer, oil was used for skin care. Millstones, necessary for oil production appeared during the Neolithic period, when agriculture took off about 9000 years ago. Oil rich seeds might need milling for eight hours before a single litre of oil is expressed. Oil production, even involving a millstone is a very labour intensive. Hand milling was the in thing until machine presses were invented several hundred years ago, and still much oil production around the world is conducted at the household level using a stone mill.
Oils could in theory be made with a more basic pestle and mortar type tool kit, but again, it would have been even more work, so if oils were produced before the Neolithic, then it must have been in very small quantities for more or less immediate use. Earlier than this, it would seem more likely that the whole of the oil bearing seed of the plant part would have been pulverized and used rubbed on the skin, but it could be a little inconvenient for some of us today if we do not have our own gathering range. Primates extract their own plant oils directly by rubbing their skin against the plant source. Certainly through much of the Ice Age, the population must also have made use of animal fat such as goose fat, as much as for insulation and water proofing as well as for keeping the skin supple. While this would impose difficulties for the majority of us city dwellers, we can be grateful that cold pressed plant oil also comes in bottles.
The Cosmetics Safety Data Base provides a search feature on the toxicity of common cosmetics ingredients.
Smeh, Nikolaus, 1994, Health Risks in Today’s Cosmetics: The handbook for a lifetime of healthy skin and hair,