Does moisturizer even work?
February 25, 2013 3:01 PM   Subscribe

I was wondering if there is any scientific basis to the idea that using moisturizer improves the texture of skin to the point that it prevents aging. My thoughts are that if moisturizer did what it claimed to do, no one would ever need an acid peel or botox. Does spreading emollient on your face actually really do anything apart from line the pockets of cosmetics companies?
posted by abbagoochie to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak for other people's faces, but I find that spreading emollient on mine keeps it from itching, feeling tight, and flaking off. In other words, it moisturizes, but I would be a fool to think that it's preventing aging.
posted by corey flood at 3:07 PM on February 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

Emollients do not prevent aging. They temporarily improve the appearance of fine lines. Someone who's been using moisturizer for the last week will look a little younger than they might without it, but only for a while.

What really prevents aging (or the appearance of aging) is staying out of the sun. It's amazing how much younger the skin on a person's bottom looks, if you compare it to the skin on the face and arms that's been exposed to sun over the years. Sunscreen isn't as effective as staying out of the sun altogether, but it makes a significant difference.
posted by Ery at 3:08 PM on February 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Moisturizer prevents dry or oily skin after it's been cleaned, instead keeping it just right. It does not prevent aging as such; it just keeps the skin soft and pretty. I am prone to more breakouts if I don't moisturize; my body's own oils aren't quite the thing for my pores.

Acid peels are for if you haven't moisturized, basically, or if you're having other skin issues.

Botox is not for the skin so much as the loss of baby fat under the skin causing wrinkles to appear. It acts on a different level than moisturizer, which is far more superficial.
posted by RainyJay at 3:08 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, it does work. Skin gets dry, moisturizer fixes that. I find it interesting to see the difference on the skin on my hands, which I am not very good about using lotion/moisturizer on, and on my face, which I am careful to moisturize day and night. That alone is pretty persuasive for me.

The older you get the more of a difference I find moisturizer makes, btw.
posted by bearwife at 3:09 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it never occurred to me to think it does anything long term, and I'm not sure anyone who makes it claims that. But it absolutely does something on an immediate/daily basis. Namely, it keeps my face from peeling off and feeling like it's three sizes too small. (And stops my legs from itching till they bleed and my elbows from feeling like sand-paper and my hands from getting all weird.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:13 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Emollients and moisturisers are not really the same thing, so you can't use the terms interchangeably. As someone with eczema, I can tell you that without emollients (which basically form a barrier to prevent the skin from drying out) I'd be much more of a flaky, itchy mess that I am now. I can't use moisturisers at all though (and I've tried dozens) - I've never found one that didn't result in my skin being dryer an hour later than before I used the stuff.
posted by pipeski at 3:15 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

To the point of preventing or reversing aging I believe the only thing that has been proven to work is retinal A. Or so I have read.
posted by Cosine at 3:22 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think "prevents aging" overstates the good that moisturizers do. Moisturizers generally contain water and some proportion of emollients, humectants, and occlusive agents. Emollients make skin softer, humectants attract moisture to the skin from the atmosphere or lower layers of the dermis, and occlusives help prevent moisture from skin being lost to the atmosphere. The loss of moisture from skin contributes to skin looking dry and withered. Moisturizers can also help prevent or heal skin conditions and help keep the production of oil balanced. However aging is much more complicated than skin just drying out, so I would not go so far as saying moisturizers "prevent" aging. Things that help prevent skin aging are avoiding sun, eating well, and not smoking.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:23 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

No, of course it does not prevent aging.

Sun, not dryness, causes aging (cell damage.) Hands look older than faces because hands get more sun. Sunscreen slows that aging process, but can't prevent it totally because it's not a 100% barrier to the sun.

Moisturizer moistens skin, that's it. Most people's faces stop producing a ton of oil after adolescence, so it feels better to moisten it. It might prevent flakiness and superficial roughness although really it's exfoliation that addresses these for the most part. Some moisturizers also add a bit of a barrier that prevents some water from evaporating off the skin.

I live in a dry climate and need to slap moisturizer on within two minutes of getting out of the shower if I don't want to feel like I'm wearing a too-small mask. But for aging, you need to stay out of the sun, and (if you want to be really aggressive) use Retin-A to accelerate skin cell turnover.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:23 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

My thoughts are that if moisturizer did what it claimed to do, no one would ever need an acid peel or botox.

What botox and exfoliation do are orthogonal to what moisturizers do. Botox paralyzes muscles, reducing or preventing the appearance of deep facial lines. These lines appear for various reasons, some of which include losing fat from the face as one ages, or constant use of particular muscles (like squinting or frowning). The muscles in the face are not affected by moisturizers. Acid peels help with removing/dissolving the "glues" that bind old skin cells to the face, and in some cases increase cellular turnover (which slows as people age). Deep peels induce collagen production because they stress the skin to an extent. You can moisturize the heck out of your face, but it doesn't mean you're doing an adequate job of removing dead skin.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:27 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, and if your question is "are moisturizer ads a bunch of misleading crap?" the answer is yes; and if your question is also "why is that legal?" I really am not sure. The FTC regulates false advertising claims - perhaps these are just hard enough to enforce that they have given up.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:36 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

What moisturiser says it prevents ageing?
posted by DarlingBri at 3:47 PM on February 25, 2013

I think moisturizer ads are very clear at walking that line. Not "prevents aging", but "lessens the appearance of aging".
posted by hanov3r at 3:58 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

It doesn't prevent or reverse aging. In order to reverse ageing it would have to affect the structure of the skin, and in that case it would be a drug and not a cosmetic.

Sunscreen can prevent ageing, and is not a drug because it doesn't change the structure of the skin - only stops other forces from changing it.

Moisturizer can plump up and smooth away dry lines, which look like wrinkles (structural creases in the skin) but aren't. You can tell a dry line apart from a wrinkle by the fact that it disappears when you apply moisturizer (leaving it to absorb for 10 minutes). A wrinkle comes from ageing, a dry line comes from dryness.

The difference between the moisturizers on the market in their ability to enact this feat is astonishing. If I don't use Cetaphil Daily Advance I look like one of those applehead carvings that boring old ladies used to bedevil people with in the Maritimes.
posted by tel3path at 4:36 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here is a good comment from a few years ago about how skin works and what moisturizer does.
posted by young sister beacon at 4:55 PM on February 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Sunscreen can prevent ageing, and is not a drug because it doesn't change the structure of the skin

The difference between drugs and cosmetics is often a semantic/legal one. In the United States at least, sunscreens are considered to be a drugs because they're marketed for the prevention of disease ("articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease"). Cosmetics can only be marketed for the purpose of temporary changes in appearance.

Botox is not for the skin so much as the loss of baby fat under the skin causing wrinkles to appear.

Maybe you're thinking of injectables like Restylane? Botox doesn't replace fat/volume. It paralyzes muscles that cause repeated creasing of the skin.
posted by the jam at 5:02 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nobody "needs" any of that stuff.

There is no scientific standard to judge any of it by, since there is no objective definition of terms like "aging", "youthful", etc.

All of it is subjective.

Even in asking a question like "will using moisturizer daily prevent the appearance of fine lines" or the like, it's still something that will depend on the individual and what their skin is like.
posted by Sara C. at 8:15 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that the primary purpose of moisturizer is temporary, but that there can be some long-term benefits to certain types of skincare. I am not a scientist, so I may be wrong.

I have this book and found it fascinating. Ignore the kitschy title. It actually goes over a lot of interesting stuff re. what surface-applied antioxidants do and do not do, which ones do anything measurable, and why; as well as more naturopathic (but less on the woo side, more on the general-holistic-health-side) stuff about diet and stress.
posted by celtalitha at 11:19 PM on February 25, 2013

In short, certain ingredients that may be present in a topical moisturizer - namely, antioxidants/retinoids - do affect the photoaging process; so yes, sun is what ultimately ages you, but there are mediating factors in the skin that can change the level of damage being done on a day-to-day basis.
posted by celtalitha at 11:29 PM on February 25, 2013

What moisturiser says it prevents ageing?

Ahem. US-specific instances (which include imports from EU/Commonwealth countries, fwtw):

L'Oreal receives warning letter from FDA over claims on anti-aging products

There are numerous skin care products on the market with exaggerated "anti aging" claims which cause the products to be unapproved new drugs. Examples of such claims are that the products "counteract," "retard," or "control" the aging process. Claims that the product will "rejuvenate," "repair," or "restructure" the skin may also be drug claims. A claim such as "molecules absorb and expand, exerting upward pressure to 'lift' wrinkles upward" is a claim for an inner structural change that would usually cause a product to be a drug.
posted by dhartung at 1:49 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, it's worth noting that some daytime moisturizers also act as sun protectant (for example, my Oil of Olay has SPF 15), so that even if you're not putting on sunscreen every day (in February!) or wearing foundation, you are making sure that you have some baseline of sun protection at all times. Which is nontrivial, especially to those of us with very fair skin.
posted by acm at 8:07 AM on February 26, 2013

Previously. I bought the Boots product but can't say for sure whether it's helping or not yet.
posted by getawaysticks at 5:42 PM on February 27, 2013

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