What You Must Know About Basic Skincare: Moisturizers, Part 2

Elegance is when the inside is as beautiful as the outside. ~Coco Chanel

Photo credit: Jack Ryan www.route12photography.com

This post is about an essential step in a complete skin care regime: occlusion. For all but the most oily or acneic skins, it's crucial that moisture be 'held' onto and 'forced' into the skin. Our skin is highly permeable, meaning that there is a constant transfer of substances going in and out of it (like water, oxygen, etc). The idea with moisturizer is that we want to put an over abundance of good things into our skin to nourish and protect it, and then keep them there as much as possible. By applying an occlusive product we decrease permeability, which allows our skin to retain much more hydration, what it needs most.

As I described in my previous post, first we should apply a powerful skin protectant, like vitamin E oil, to our skin. This type of oil is perfect because of its lightness, or its ability to absorb quickly. But once this oil is completely absorbed, your skin then has little protection against the drying effects of our environment (sun, wind, pollution, etc). That's where occlusion comes in: by applying a heavier/ more substantial product on top of the lighter/ more absorbing one, you maximize the protective benefits of each product. They protect your skin cells from losing too much water, keeping them, and your skin, plump and juicy. A thicker and more substantial agent also will provide more lubrication, essentially 'greasing the joints' of where your skin moves the most...eyes, mouth, and neck, thereby decreasing the formation of lines, wrinkles, and blackheads by forcing moisture in and preventing it from escaping.

What to use?

Raw African Shea butter. In addition to slathering myself with Trader Joe's Vitamin E oil nearly every day for seven years, I have done the same with Shea butter. It is a very thick, yellow or white, fatty extract from the nut of the African Shea tree. It is available in any health food store or online.

Out of all the moisturizing products I've experimented with over the years, this remains my favorite for two reasons: it's ridiculously inexpensive, about $7 for a 10 oz. tub, which lasts 2-3 months, and it consistently provides the most reliably outstanding benefits of soft, radiant, firm skin. I am absolutely in love with this stuff. There's also an added secret benefit...purchasing this product provides income to the women of the financially impoverished African villages that produce it. There are two types of Shea butter: creamy or whipped, and raw and unrefined. The raw type, which I always use, is much cheaper, and there is no difference in their skin benefits.

Another excellent occlusive moisturizer is coconut oil. It can easily be used in place of Shea butter and it will provide nearly the same benefits. It's available in any grocery store or online. Personally, I choose to use Shea butter because it's more occlusive than coconut oil...I prefer to get as much moisturizing bang for my buck as possible. That being said, I know women who use and love coconut oil, so it's simply a matter of preference. I suspect that a young (under thirty) or less dry skin will love the lighter, lovely scent of coconut oil and a more mature or drier skin will benefit most from Shea butter.

How to use:

In the morning, after cleansing your skin and applying a light moisturizing protectant like vitamin E oil, take a chunk of Shea butter about the size of a grape and melt it by rubbing back and forth in the palms of your hands. Beginning at your ankles, apply the melted Shea butter to every inch of your skin, up to the top of your neck, stopping just before your jawline. (An exception to this is you should avoid applying Shea butter over an area of skin that has acne breakouts, whether it be on your face or body. The occlusion will just make the breakout worse.) Take care to apply a bit more to the areas of your body that are most exposed to the environment: neck, chest, arms, and hands. After body application, you will find that there is still too much left on your hands, so before you apply any of what's remaining to your face, wipe most of the excess off of your hands with a towel. Then, with the slightest hint left on your palms, gently dab a bit under your eyes, on your upper lip and lips. If you have dry skin, apply the barest almost-imperceptible hint to the rest of your face (combination skin types should avoid this, and oily skin should avoid applying any Shea butter to your face at all, at least in the morning). During the summer, most mornings I only put the sheerest hint of Shea butter under my eyes and on my lips. I will apply it to my entire face in the driest winter months.

At night, you can and should be much more liberal with your Shea butter or coconut oil application. Most nights I really go to town with it, especially if I've spent a long day on the beach. Depending on your 'oiliness threshold', really grease your face up, again, especially around your eyes, mouth, and neck. If your boyfriend or husband has a problem with you being greasy (mine never has), just tell him it will keep you looking young and hot :-) The benefits of a generous nightime application are twofold. First, since your skin is highly lubricated, it's better protected from all the pulling and stretching that occurs while you sleep with your face on your pillow (any pulling or stretching will, in time, break down the collagen and elastin support fibers under your skin, leading to sagging.) Also, your skin is more absorbent while you sleep. It's the time when your body goes about the business of repairing damage, inside and out, so the highly beneficial fatty acids in the Shea butter will be utilized most at night.

The one minor drawback to the vitamin E/ Shea butter method is that you will be a bit greasy for an hour or two. But, that's kind of the point: it creates a protective barrier, forcing moisture in and sealing it there. For me, the vast number of benefits far outweighs this one small inconvenience. In addition to being a little greasy for a bit, your skin will also be:

~soft

~radiant

~younger looking

~and break out less. When it does, it will heal faster.

The only way to know if this will work for you is to try it. Experiment with it. See how much or how little you need to feel and see a dramatic difference in your skin. Find where your 'oiliness threshold' lies, and see how far past it you can comfortably push yourself. Your future self will thank you. Let me know what you think!

Up next: What You Must Know About Basic Skincare: Exfoliants.