Water is the elixir of life for your skin. It keeps them plump and enables the various regeneration processes. Unfortunately, water is as fleeting as it is essential here. The skin has mechanisms that prevent too much good moisture from escaping. But environmental influences, maturity and unsuitable care can dry them out. It is all the more important to understand what exactly your skin needs when it reports drought. Let's see!
Healthy skin needs moisture
If the skin becomes thirsty, this has unpleasant consequences. At first, the skin simply feels dry, tense or itchy. In the stratum corneum , the horny layer, water-soluble enzymes sit on dry land that regulate the protective cuticle layer. This is how rough, scaly patches form. The skin loses elasticity and becomes cracked or shows hairline fissures that make it look older. Spoiler alert: Oil alone is not enough here . This only has a moisture- preserving effect , but not a moisturizing effect .
☝️ Note: Dry skin needs a combination of moisture AND fat .
This is how the skin retains moisture
You can't just pour water into the skin at will. It doesn't flow into invisible tanks somewhere below the surface from which it can feed forever. The skin needs it in the horny layer and that's where it stores it. Here is a mix of active ingredients known as Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF) . It soaks up water like a bath sponge.
But even such a sponge dries out again over time and shrivels up. To ensure that this does not happen to your skin, it also secures this store with the skin barrier. This is intended to prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL) , i.e. the evaporation of water from the skin.
💡 The NMF determines how well the skin is able to absorb moisture. The TEWL shows how quickly the moisture is released again.
In short: Your skin is well moisturized when it has enough natural moisturizing factors (NMF) to bind water and an intact skin barrier to prevent it from losing it 1 . But what exactly do these two components consist of and how can you optimally support your dry skin here? Let's dig a little deeper here!
The moisture content of the stratum corneum: the role of the NMF
The composition of the Natural Moisturizing Factor
The Natural Moisturizing Factor is not a single substance, but a mixture of water-soluble, powerful humectants that the body produces or absorbs from food. These include amino acids, salts, glycerin, urea and hyaluronic acid 1 . Healthy cells in the outer layer of skin contain around 20 to 30% of NMF by dry weight (i.e. excluding water).
The role of the NMF
The NMF substances act like small water magnets and bind moisture in the horny layer. If they are not fully utilized, they draw in additional humidity to fill up their stores. In principle, the system regulates itself. This is important, because a well-hydrated horny layer:
- Keeps skin plump and elastic.
- Creates an optimal working environment for water-loving enzymes responsible for the skin's natural desquamation.
- Maintains the skin's protective acid mantle, which protects against infection, dehydration and external influences.
What disturbs the NMF?
On the one hand, the ambient air would be very dry. It does not supply the NMF with fresh water and ensures that the water present evaporates more quickly. In addition, the skin may lack substances that are part of the NMF. For example, the amino acid content decreases as we get older. Mature skin therefore has a lower storage capacity than young ones.
This is how you support the NMF of your skin
- Treat her to a moisturizer with hygroscopic ingredients - i.e. water magnets - such as hyaluronic acid , urea and glycerin . With this you not only hydrate, but also practically carry out a memory expansion.
- A balanced diet is also never to be underestimated for skin health and for our NMF. Your body cannot produce essential amino acids such as leucine or lysine itself, and it also absorbs salts from food.
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An intact skin barrier and the role of the TEWL
The structure of the skin barrier
You can imagine the outer layer of skin as a protective wall . It consists of individual horny cells that are lined up like bricks in a wall and connected with the skin's own fats. It keeps unwanted external influences out, but is not completely impermeable. Otherwise the NMF would not be able to absorb water from the ambient air, for example.
The role of the skin barrier
The skin barrier has a dual function. First, it shields the skin from germs, bacteria, toxins, etc. from the outside. And secondly, it prevents water from evaporating freely from the skin. But the barrier can become brittle. Aggressive cleaning or certain ingredients (more on this below) literally throw the system out of joint. Important lipids are washed out of the barrier and make it too permeable. Note: Dry skin often has a disturbed barrier.
A small amount of transepidermal water loss is quite normal. The skin is not a leak-proof plastic can, but allows certain substances in and out on purpose. If the barrier is damaged, however, it can no longer regulate this properly. The water loss increases and increases. It is now important not only to give the skin back the missing water, but also to tackle the cause. The barrier lacks lipids. That's why you need to supply your skin with water AND fat.
What disrupts the skin barrier?
Unfortunately, some nursing practices have become established that promote TEWL.
- This includes cleaning the facial skin with soaps or surfactants . This is not necessary for healthy skin and certainly not recommended for sensitive or dry skin, because these substances remove fats too effectively. This makes the skin barrier as effective as a perforated umbrella. It sometimes takes hours to get its moisture balance back on track 2,3 .
- In addition, the sensitive skin barrier is often attacked by emulsifiers. Emulsifiers have the property of coupling water and fat and are therefore present in all emulsions : ie creams and body lotions. The emulsifiers cause lipids to be removed from the skin every time it is washed with water. You can find out how this works in detail in our article on emulsifiers .
This is how you support your natural skin barrier
- Clean gently : In the morning, lukewarm water is sufficient, in the evening, oil is ideal for removing dirt and make-up. Once or twice a week you can really unclog your pores with a facial steam bath .
Provide barrier-damaged skin with natural lipids to fill in the gaps in its protective layer. Vegetable oils are full of them. Slow-spreading oils such as jojoba oil , which additionally seal the skin and limit the TEWL, are ideal .
☝️ Mineral oils also offer a strong occlusive effect, but offer no nutritional value. So they don't help to repair the skin barrier.
- Avoid emulsifiers ! They are in almost all cosmetics that contain water and oil as a base to give them a creamy consistency. The alternative is waterless products that you simply apply to damp skin - learn more about the benefits!
How can you help your skin retain more moisture?
The cause of dry skin can therefore be a lack of fats or moisturizing factors. However, as long as she is acutely dehydrated, you definitely need to moisturize her. Balanced care is needed ! The supplies active ingredients that donate moisture and those that maintain it.
And to get around the problem with the emulsifiers, my tip is to combine two products together . A waterless balm or face oil and a moisturizing serum are suitable for this.
Simply mix both products between the palms of your hands before applying, and the skin's own (and therefore harmless!) emulsifiers will do the rest. This has another advantage: you can react individually to whether your skin needs more oil or more moisture.
Dry or dehydrated skin?
So there are two different triggers for dehydration. But which one applies to your skin? This is where the next post will help. It revolves around the question: Do I have dry or dehydrated skin?