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How to keep your skin looking and feeling hydrated

27 February 2019

Our clients at Woodford Medical range from 30’s upwards and many of them face the same challenge of trying to get their skin to retain moisture and prevent dryness. So here are some facts from Dr Patterson on how best to keep the moisture content at the optimum level in your skin.

The surface level of twelve to fifteen skin cells and the lipids that lie between them are referred to as the external skin barrier and are vital to help protect us from the environment and to prevent water being lost from the skin.

A large number of issues can affect this ratio and hence the skin's ability to protect itself and to retain water. With increasing age, the skin’s ability to maintain lipid production and therefore barrier function declines. Excessive amounts of UV exposure and extremes of climate be they humidity or heat will all effect the skin barrier.

In the winter we come in from the cold outdoors to a sudden change of heat and drier atmosphere, something that is very challenging for the skin to cope with. Excessive use of physical exfoliation particularly the more harsh forms can remove surface skin cells and the precious lipid that the skin has spent the last month building up.

Forms of medication such as cholesterol lowering drugs can have a very drying effect on the skin as they switch off the production of cholesterol which is one of the key skin lipids.

With the menopause comes a decline in oestrogen levels which in turn decreases lipid production something that can be reversed by hormone replacement therapy.

So how does this loss of moisture present itself? Skin can start to look dull, scaly or flaky and take on a roughened or wrinkled appearance. The area may feel tight with an itch and in extreme cases the skin will be painful, start to crack and even peel. Dryness on the body is most likely on the lower legs and arms and often itching leads to the tendency to scratch the area which in turn makes the problem worse.

Hyaluronic acid is a key molecule in helping skin retain its natural moisture so let’s explore its role in the ageing process. Hyaluronic acid is a molecule with an intense affinity for water and thus is very important for ensuring the skin retains water levels. If you want a mental picture of HA molecules and how they work think of a sponge like material that is continually wanting to attract water. 

Hyaluronic levels, just like collagen levels start to deteriorate in our late twenties although changes may not actually become visible until the thirties. The richest levels of HA in the epidermis are to found in a layer just below the external skin barrier with water being drawn up from the dermis to hydrate the epidermis. The lipid nature of the external barrier just above this layer traps the moisture preventing it from escaping.

Excessive, externally derived HA may draw moisture from the deeper layers of the skin completely unbalancing water distribution. I appreciate it is an appealing sound bite - HA is an important molecule that controls water loss and hydration in the skin so just add lots of topical HA Serum but in reality, the skin doesn’t function on such a simplistic level.


We are often told that drinking water will help your skin glow but it's not as simple as drink lots of water = hydrated skin.


One of the commonest misconceptions in the beauty industry is the suggestion that if we drink more water our skin will look better. This is simply not true and is not supported by any evidence. The body has a very finely tuned excretion mechanism that senses when the system is even slightly over hydrated and immediately moves to adjust by simply excreting the excess through the kidneys.


In most healthy people thirst and a desire to drink set alongside normally functioning kidneys helps to keep us in perfect fluid balance and taking more than we need is pointless. Unless of course you need the exercise running to the toilet!


So, let’s look at other ways to increase the water content in our skin. At the end of a long winter the effects of all that I have described above will be at their worst. Like any organ in the body the skin depends on a good balanced intake to derive all of its requirements to function normally so eating sensibly is clearly important. If you live in a hard water area symptoms of dryness can be much more noticeable. Hard water contains higher levels of minerals such as calcium and magnesium so some individuals particularly if they have sensitive skin may feel that their skin is more uncomfortable and irritable. This may be in part due to soaps and cleansers not lathering as well and therefore reducing the effectiveness of the cleansing process. Others feel that the hard water affects the washing process and higher levels of residue detergents are left on clothing producing a greater risk of skin irritation. 

The best way to look after your skin is to help it to repair and make it healthy as healthy skin will always look best. The key pointers for making your skin look and feel it’s very best are:

Preserve a healthy skin barrier

Use cleansers and moisturisers that deliver a combination of occlusive agents and the physiological lipids to help the skin barrier to repair.

Dampen chronic inflammation

There are 7 pathways of chronic inflammation that lead to unwanted pigment, redness, wrinkling and skin cancers. Controlling all of these pathways with a wide raft of anti inflammatories will help make the skin healthier and more able to function normally. So choose moisturisers that have both barrier repair and a wide anti-inflammatory effect.


Smooth the surface of the skin and clear the pores

Avoid physical exfoliants that non-specifically trash and remove healthy skin cells and the lipid between them. Instead use gentle chemical exfoliants that have been specially formulated to avoid irritation. 

Deliver the correct vitamin nutrition

Try and avoid the marketing hype that surrounds adding excessive levels of vitamin c or vitamin a or for that matter high levels of any one vitamin. Think instead of balanced cell nutrition using the whole range of vitamins and components of vitamins that skin cells need to thrive. Vitamin A, B, C , D and E all in their correct proportions and levels in the forms that cells can utilise.

Protect from excessive UV damage

UV is damaging and gives the skin a monumental ongoing headache that is continually challenging its resources. Protect your skin with an SPF of at least 25 but preferably 50 on a daily basis and let the skin get on with being as healthy as it can.

By doing all of this the skin will be healthy and function naturally to retain normal moisture levels.