Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Moisturizer Musings November 19, 2012

I came across a few things lately related to moisturizers that I thought would be good to share with my readers especially now that the weather is getting colder most places.

Future Derm recently addressed a number of common moisturizer misconceptions.  The issue I found most interesting was that of moisturizers with spf versus sunscreens:

Moisturizers with SPF versus Sunscreens

Incorrect Definitions:

I don’t actually know how people (in their minds) differentiate moisturizers with SPF from sunscreens. But I always see people give this distinction, without giving an explanation. For example, a reader recently commented that:

“… HOWEVER, the LRP is actually a MOISTURIZER with SPF rather than a straight sunscreen.So I was wondering if the PCA Sunscreen you recommend is moisturizing as well or would it require an additional moisturizer?…”


Now that we’ve defined what a “moisturizer” is, a moisturizer with SPF is therefore just a leave-on product that contains occlusive agents AND UV filters, and may also contain humectants, emollients, and other beneficial ingredients. What about sunscreens? I honestly don’t know what to say, except that sunscreens are the exact same thing. They can certainly be “moisturizing.” In fact, a common complaint is that “sunscreens,” especially those that contain inorganic UV filters like titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, are TOO moisturizing, greasy, emollient, and/or heavy. So I don’t understand how this distinction was imagined in the first place. I mean, anything with an SPF rating is measured the same way; a “moisturizer” with an SPF of 20 and a “sunscreen” with an SPF of 20, will both provide the same initial level of UVB protection.

Correct Definitions:

Moisturizers with SPF and sunscreens are the exact same thing: leave- on products that contain occlusive agents AND UV filters, and may also contain humectants, emollients, and other beneficial ingredients.

After reading the above analysis of moisturizers with spf versus sunscreens I thought – why did this never occur to me before!?!?  Truthfully I can’t say why I needed to read what someone else had written about this in order to realize that it was true.  The real key here is finding the right product for you and using it – make sure that you use it every day without fail and that you use enough of it.  A tiny drop of sunscreen (or moisturizer with spf) will not give you enough protection, and make sure you reapply throughout the day.  Sunscreen only lasts two to three hours.

The Importance of Moisturizer

Recently I reviewed the book Stop Aging, Stop Living by Dr. Jeannette Graf.  My review focused on Dr. Graf’s dietary and lifestyle advice and how an alkaline diet helps your skin look and function at its best.  When it comes to hands on skincare advice Dr. Graf’s is very straightforward and easy to follow.  I was struck by her insistence of the daily use of moisturizer for all skin types.  Here is her advice about using moisturizer during the day (pages 112-114)

It doesn’t matter whether your skin is dry, oily, combination, or normal.  You need moisturizer to replace moisture lost during cleansing and seal in that moisture so it does not escape.  Your skin type may affect what type of moisturizer you use, but not whether or not you use it.

Moisturizers replace lost water and hold it there with humectants (water-binding agents).  In other words, they add moisture to your skin and prevent existing moisture from escaping.  Although your skin naturally retains moisture through small molecular weight compounds called natural moisturizing factor (NMF), it needs a layer of fatty acids (lipids) above the NMF layer to seal in this moisture and prevent it from evaporating.  Showering, cleansing, sun exposure, wind, dry heating and air-conditioning, swimming, and other factors remove these fatty acids on a nearly constant basis.  If you don’t use a moisturizer to replace this lipid layer and seal in NMF, your skin’s natural moisture evaporates, resulting in dry, thin, tight, older-looking skin.  …

Look for a moisturizer that advertises an SPF of at least 30.  During the winter months, when UVB rays are weakest, you can get away with an SPF of 15.  This SPF will protect your skin from sun damage during short outdoor activities, such as going to and from the car.  Apply it first thing in the morning rather than waiting until you are ready to head outdoors.  Although glass blocks sunburn-inducing UVB rays, it does not block much of UVA.  Your SPF protection will last about an hour*, so reapply (or touch up your mineral makeup, which also provides some sun protection) before going outdoors later in the day.

Make sure the sunscreen and/or sunblock in your moisturizer is broad-spectrum, with wording on the packaging that says it protects against both UVB and UVA rays.  …  As an added bonus, any antioxidants in your moisturizer (vitamins C, E, grape seed extract, or green tea) will enhance the protection from your sunblock as well as provide protection from environmental pollutants.

Finding the perfect moisturizer may take some trial and error.  Try free samples whenever possible, and trust your instincts.  If your skin feels shiny or greasy, the moisturizer is too rich for your skin type.  If your skin feels tight and dry, it’s not rich enough.  If you have combination skin, you may need two different moisturizers – a gel or a sheer sunscreen for the oily areas and a thicker moisturizer for the drier areas.  If you have very dry skin, you may need to double your efforts, both using a rich moisturizer that contains no SPF or anti-wrinkle ingredients and applying a separate SPF product on top.  This first layer moisturizer should contain humectants and emollient lipids such as ceramides and evening primrose oil.  Evening primrose oil is the richest source of gamma-linolenic acid, a type of essential fatty acid that is soothing and particularly moisturizing for the skin.

As for the evening Dr. Graf has the following to say (pages 119-120):

Moisturize and Renew

Use a different moisturizer at night than you use in the morning.  At night, your skin is renewing itself, so you need a moisturizer that helps the skin to perform this important function.  That comes down to one important ingredient: retinol.  This highly studied skin care ingredient has been proven to even skin tone, promote elasticity, build collagen, and renew skin cells, promoting the birth of new skin cells as well as protecting the ones that already exist.  It’s the most important skin care ingredient, apart from sunblock, no matter your age, complexion, or skin type.

Retinol is a natural form of the vitamin A that is found in yellow and green vegetables, egg yolks, and fish oils.  It’s the most abundant form of Vitamin A found in the skin.  We learned about the benefits of retinol in the 1970s, when researchers began using it to treat acne.  They noticed a side benefit to people who used Retin-A (a very strong prescription form of retinol).  Their skin began to look younger.  Retin-A seemed to reverse sun-induced aging in the following ways:

  • Decreasing fine lines and wrinkles
  • Improving collagen production
  • Enhancing elasticity
  • Improving skin tone and texture
  • Enhancing skin lightening and minimizing age spots

It was most effective on the people who needed the most help – on skin that already had suffered lots of premature aging due to sun exposure.  Retin-A is not available over the counter.  You need a prescription for it.  Over-the-counter retinol moisturizers, however, have also been shown to reduce wrinkles and other signs of aging – and without all the irritating side effects of prescription Retin-A.

To choose a moisturizer, follow these tips:

  • To avoid redness or irritation, start with the lowest retinol cream you can find, slowly working your way up to increasingly stronger creams.
  • Look for a retinol cream that is formulated for sensitive skin.
  • Buy a cream from a respected company to ensure stability and safety.  Respected companies include Johnson and Johnson, Neutrogena, and Roc.
  • Don’t step using retinol once your appearance improves.  You need to keep using retinol to maintain the results.


So there you have it – two interesting opinions about moisturizers.  My take on the issue is that you should find a moisturizer that is right for you and use it.  How your skin looks and feels and the climate that you live in will definitely influence which moisturizer is right for you.  Just as Dr. Graf explains it might take some trial and error to find the right moisturizer for you but once you do your skin will thank you.


My Related Posts:


*Yes, I know that I wrote above that your sunscreen lasts two to three hours and Dr. Graf says one hour.  Who’s right?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that you should reapply your sunscreen throughout the day.


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3 Responses to “Moisturizer Musings”

  1. Rae Says:

    I still can’t figure out how I would be able to reapply sunscreen. How do you do it?

    It’s like I’m gonna have to wash my face, apply sunscreen, and put on makeup all over again.

    • I’ve actually found that I can reapply my sunscreen over my foundation and my face looks fine. Maybe my make-up (powder mineral foundation and blush) doesn’t last that long and that’s why applying sunscreen over it doesn’t matter, but my face still looks fine when reapplying sunscreen later in the day. But if you don’t want to do that try a mineral powder spf. I don’t think that they give enough protection (I’ve blogged about this before), but at least it is some protection, and they won’t mess up your make-up.

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