Why I stopped using moisturiser on my face

An award-winning clinical facialist with over two decades experience specialising in skin treatment and skin rejuvenation, Kate Kerr reveals why she ditched the moisturiser and never looked back...

One of the biggest personal skin issues that I’ve been on a quest to improve since I was a teenager is skin clarity. I have always been prone to breakouts and I have to work hard to keep my skin clear. 

I’ve learned a lot along the way, but the biggest game-changer for me has been to ditch the moisturiser. I always used to moisturise thinking I had combination skin, fluctuating between dry and oily – then I realised I was actually upsetting the balance by moisturising. As soon as I stopped using products with moisturising ingredients and stuck to hydrators instead (serums containing active ingredients such as glycerine, water, urea and hyaluronic acid), my skin became more radiant, plump and glowing. 

So what’s the problem with moisturisers?

It has been ingrained in us from a young age to cleanse, tone and moisturise. We think all skin types need this, but in fact our skin is capable of maintaining its own hydration levels. You only need to look at a child’s skin to see this in action, they don’t moisturise and their skin is in optimal condition.

By using a moisturiser, our skin’s surface sends a signal down to its water reservoirs telling it that there is plenty of moisture and to halt production.  This makes the skin sluggish and lacking in moisture, so we reach for more moisturiser, thus exacerbating the problem and reaching for a richer moisturiser and often balms and oils.

The perpetual cycle of moisturising

It is important to wake up your skin’s natural moisturising mechanisms as this will have a knock on effect and stimulate other processes within the skin- balancing oil production, brightening the complexion and slowing the rate of skin ageing. You need to break that perpetual cycle of reaching for a moisturiser when your skin feels tight, often reaching for a richer and richer moisturiser as time goes on. Once you stop moisturising, this cycle is broken and the skin’s ability to moisturise itself increases over a period of 6-12 weeks.  Don’t let that time frame put you off; I normally see client’s skin turn a corner at around 2-3 weeks.

Supporting the natural ageing process

Skipping the moisturiser can also help to support the skin through the natural ageing process as they inhibit the production of Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), one of our skin’s natural moisturisers. GAGs are important for the production of collagen and the cushioning around it, keeping the skin plump and firm.

Natural exfoliation and cell turnover

Moisturising prevents the skin’s natural exfoliation by smoothing the skin cells and stopping them from sloughing off.  So by stopping moisturising, this actually stimulates cell turnover and encourages natural desquamation (that’s the shedding of the outer layers of the skin). This improves skin function and exposes the tightly packed plump fresh cells to effectively reflect light and leave the skin glowing.

Balancing oil production

Another peril of moisturisers is that when the skin becomes dehydrated, it often over-produces oil. Then, because the skin is sluggish and there is a build up of dead skin cells, it prevents the flow of this increased oil production leading to blackheads, whiteheads and possibly even acne. Waking up the skin’s natural moisturising processes helps to balance oil production, which prevents skin congestion and acne. 

What if your skin really is dry?

Only ‘true dry skin’ is in need of moisture supplementation, which accounts for just 10-15% of the population. This will either be people born with this skin type who are likely to suffer from eczema or dermatitis, or women post-menopause. 

The symptoms for dry and dehydrated skin are very similar; however the cause is different. Dehydrated skin is lacking in water, whilst dry skin is lacking in lipids. While both can result in a feeling of tightness and flaking, those with truly dry skin will have been born with it and will be affected from head to toe. They are unlikely to have ever experienced breakouts, or an oily T-Zone, and tend to have very small, possibly invisible pores. 

Dehydrated skin needs hydration and this shouldn’t be confused with moisturisation. You need to look for products that draw or put water back into the skin, such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, urea or light, water-based products. These formulas will provide the hydration needed without interfering with the skin’s natural moisturising  processes.  

So how do I go about weaning off the moisturiser?

I believe in going cold turkey, but to make the process easier, I encourage the use of specific serums. By going cold turkey, you will get a much quicker result. Your skin will feel a little tight and dry for a couple of weeks, but it will feel the panic and start filling up its water reservoirs and  hydration will continue to improve for up to two skin cycles (12 weeks). After this point, you will see and feel a visible difference. 

If you are unsure if you have a ‘true’ dry skin there is no harm in attempting to wake up the natural moisturising processes by stopping the use of moisturiser. If after 12 weeks your skin is still very dry, then you know you are more likely to have a true dry skin type.

Remember that not using a moisturiser does not mean that you won’t be using any products on your skin; you will be using plenty of active serums that help prevent and correct skin conditions and support the skin through the natural ageing process – look for those that contain ingredients such as urea, low to medium levels of glycerine and hyaluronic acid, along with the targeted active ingredients. . 

A retinol serum is also very important as it helps to stimulate these skin processes to wake up more quickly. Retinol, a Vitamin A derivative, helps to stimulate a large percentage of the different cells within the skin to behave as fresher, healthier and younger versions of themselves. This not only improves collagen and hyaluronic acid production, but also speeds up cell turnover to improve skin function, hydration and to smooth and brighten.

You need to look at all the steps within your skincare and makeup regime and question whether they are providing moisture; stay away from balm and oil cleansers and don’t forget a tinted moisturiser also counts, face masks too although clay masks are ok.

Conclusion

My journey to clearer, healthier skin has led me to the realisation that less can truly be more. By stepping away from traditional moisturisers and embracing hydrating serums with active ingredients, I have found a more balanced and effective skincare routine. This shift has allowed my skin to regulate its own moisture levels, leading to a reduction in breakouts, enhanced radiance and improved overall skin health.

Understanding that our skin possesses an inherent ability to maintain hydration challenges the conventional wisdom of daily moisturiser use. Instead, by allowing natural processes to function and stimulating those processes with the right skincare, we can support our skin’s vitality and resilience. For those with genuine dry skin conditions, more targeted hydration solutions are essential. However, for many, breaking the cycle of moisturisation can unlock the potential for a healthier, more naturally vibrant complexion.

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