Some skin is just thirsty. You know what I’m talking about; you put your moisturizer on, your skin gratefully sucks in the hydration, and your skin is noticeably softer. Moments later, though, the dry patches that the moisturizer briefly soothed reappear. Add a blast of arctic air or a stiff breeze, and your skin goes from thirsty to parched.
You wouldn’t deny yourself a glass of water when you’re thirsty (I hope you wouldn’t, anyway), so why not give your skin the hydration it’s asking for? Instead of stopping with a single layer of moisturizer, you might consider adding another layer so your skin can indulge in a nice, long drink.
The Ancient Origins of Moisturizer Layering
Layering moisturizers might seem like a new trend, but the practice has been used for millennia in different parts of the world. We humans have no doubt been adding oil to our dry skin since we parted ways from our simian cousins. But there is ample archaeological evidence of more complicated moisturizing procedures practiced in ancient civilizations.
Privileged women in Ancient Egypt used different preparations designed to tighten, brighten, and moisturize the skin (ingredients used in some of these preparations included crocodile feces and lead!) . In South Korea, layering moisturizers is a time-honored tradition that the United States is only just beginning to catch up to. In the early 1900s, Japan’s geisha layered oils and creams to improve their skin’s texture and to protect it from their iconic makeup.
The Greek physician Galen is credited with inventing an early moisturizing cream in the Second Century CE. Galen created this cream by emulsifying almond oil, rose water and beeswax in a preparation that presaged modern-day “cold cream.” Galen’s blend combined constituents that would have usually been applied to the skin separately–layering, in other words.
We now know better than to use lead on our skin, and when we want a tightening mask, we don’t have to hit up crocodile nests. We have a wealth of moisturizers at our disposal, and thanks to the internet, we don’t even have to leave the house to procure them.
Choosing Moisturizers For Layering
Any good moisturizing routine will address moisture loss on multiple fronts. It will draw moisture into the skin cells, it will fill in the spaces between skin cells to plump them up, and it will lock moisture in so that it is not immediately lost. The chemicals in moisturizers can be roughly divided into three categories:
- Occlusives are heavy lipids that sit on the skin’s surface and prevent water from evaporating from the surface of the skin. Petrolatum (petroleum jelly or VaselineⓇ), beeswax, mineral oil, and dimethicone are all examples of occlusives. Occlusives tend to have a thick, creamy consistency.
- Emollients are similar to occlusives in that they’re usually lipids, too. But where occlusives sit on top of the skin’s outer layer, emollients are meant to penetrate into the skin to fill in the spaces between skin cells. Emollients soften the skin and allow water molecules to enter skin cells more easily. They are usually a thinner consistency than occlusives.
- Humectants are chemicals that draw water molecules into the skin cells.Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that is currently enjoying tremendous popularity. You can find it in serums, moisturizing creams, and ointments. Glycerin is a skincare workhorse, acting as a humectant, emollient, and humectant at once.
You should choose moisturizers that offer occlusive, emollient, and humectant properties when combined with your other products. Some products should not be used together. If your regular moisturizer contains retinoids, adding one that contains alpha hydroxy acids can result in irritation. The same is true of retinoids and vitamin C, although in instance, a simple 30-minute wait between moisturizers might reduce irritation.
If you have questions about combining moisturizers, you should speak to a board-certified dermatologist.
How to Layer Moisturizer
When layering, a good rule of thumb is to start with the most lightweight product and work upwards towards the heaviest. Think about getting dressed for a winter stroll; you wouldn’t put your tee-shirt on over your sweater, and you wouldn’t put your sweater on over your coat. Layering moisturizers follows a similar principle.
You should put your first layer of moisturizer on after you’ve cleaned your skin and put on any serums or acne treatments. This layer should be relatively light. CeraVeⓇ Daily Moisture Lotion is a great option, as it contains hyaluronic acid as well as ceramides.
The thicker moisturizer goes on last. MAC Complete Comfort Creme is an old favorite of people with sensitive skin; this creamy moisturizer is the same formula as the old PrescriptivesⓇ moisturizer of the same name. CeraVeⓇ Anti-Aging Face Cream is another excellent option. It contains hyaluronic acid and retinol and has an SPF of 30.
Remember to use moisturizing lotions or light creams in the AM and switch to heavier products in the PM. If you’re getting ready to start the day, apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 over all your layers. Sunscreen loses its effectiveness if moisturizers are layered over it.
What About Slugging?
Slugging is an old moisturizing technique that has gained new popularity in the last three years. It is a layering method that is typically only used at night, and it finishes with a very heavy occlusive layer. The most popular occlusives for slugging are petroleum jelly and petrolatum-based moisturizers. Slugging in and of itself does not add moisture to the skin; it simply keeps the skin from losing moisture. You must use hydrating products beneath the occlusive layer if you want to see softer skin.
If you’re using petroleum jelly, it should be a pure product without additives that could irritate the skin. VaselineⓇ is an excellent option if you are going to use petroleum jelly. Both CeraVeⓇ and AquaphorⓇ make healing ointments containing petroleum jelly. These moisturizers also contain humectants that soothe and hydrate dry skin.
Slugging follows the same steps as any other layering routine: skin is washed; serums are applied, then a lightweight moisturizer; the heavier occlusive moisturizer is put on at the very end.
Super-thirsty skin can definitely benefit from slugging, but there are some things you should keep in mind before you undertake this routine:
- While those of us with oily skin can benefit from slugging, it’s best avoided when there are active acne breakouts or clogged pores.
- If you have a history of clogged pores, be sure that the products you’re using beneath the occlusive layer are noncomedogenic. Petroleum jelly itself is not comedogenic, but layering it on top of oily serums or extra creamy moisturizers can lead to clogged pores.
- Products containing alpha hydroxy acids, retinoids, salicylic acid, and other exfoliants should not be used when you’re slugging; their effects can be intensified, leading to dry, irritated skin–the very thing slugging is supposed to address.
Most people benefit from slugging one or two nights a week. If you have excessively dry skin, nightly slugging can rapidly restore the skin to health. Once the dryness is managed, you can maintain your skin’s health by slugging two to four times weekly.. Slugging is a great addition to your skincare routine during the colder months, when skin tends to be dryer.
How Do You Layer If You Have Eczema?
Eczema causes dry skin and dryness in turn worsens the symptoms of eczema flares. Your moisturizing routine becomes more important than ever during a flare, and layering is a great way to boost that routine.
There are some things you should pay special attention to during an eczema flare:
- Flares are not the time to use harsh cleansers or moisturizers; retinoids and strong exfoliants like alpha hydroxy acids and salicylic acid can be especially hard on the skin during an eczema flare.
- Apply moisturizer at least two times a day. You can moisturize more frequently; in fact, Dr. Steve Harlan, the board-certified dermatologist who created SmartLotionⓇ, encourages his patients to moisturize more than twice a day.
- If you’re being treated with topical ElidelⓇ cream, put it on before you apply your moisturizer.
- If you’re using SmartLotionⓇ, it should be put on in a thin, vanishing layer after you’ve moisturized. This will cut down on irritation or burning that can occur with initial treatments with SmartLotionⓇ .
Something For Everyone
Layering moisturizers can be a great way to improve your skincare game without doing a total overhaul of your routine. Those of us with mature, dry, or sensitive skin benefit from the extra bump of moisture. Just keep your skin’s unique needs in mind when you’re deciding which moisturizers to add.
Adding a moisturizer is a simple and effective way to give your thirsty skin a drink–and really, isn’t that the least you could do for our skin?