Zein Obagi, M.D., a Beverly Hills-based dermatologist and founder of skin-care line ZO Skin Health, not only suggests moisturiser is a waste of time, but also potentially damaging to the skin. He suggests that when you use moisturiser every day, you run the risk of making your skin older, not younger. He states, “If you apply a lot of moisture, your skin will become sensitive, dry, dull, and interfere with its own natural hydration functions.”

In general, moisturiser can be good for your skin by acting as a protective barrier for conditions such as eczema, but if overused, your skin could start to rely on the moisturiser and not properly exfoliate on its own or produce as many natural lipids and proteins. 

How Moisturiser Works

In order to understand why you shouldn’t love moisturisers as much as you do, you need to understand what they are and how they work.

The purpose of a moisturiser is to prevent the loss of water in the outermost layer of our skin, the stratum corneum, but it also helps to prevent environmental damage to your skin as it acts as a protective barrier.

An illustration of a healthy skin barrier
An illustration of a damaged skin barrier

Moisturisers can vary in thickness and potency. If the dominant ingredient is water, it will be classified as a ‘light’ moisturizer. If it has a high concentration of protein, it is labelled a ‘moderate moisturizer.’ If the lipids, or fatty substances, are the dominant ingredient, they are called ‘heavy moisturizers.’

Is Moisturiser Bad for Your Skin?

Dr Obagi firmly believes that moisturizers, in general, reduce your skin’s natural ability to exfoliate. Why? He says that dead skin cells “stick” back onto your complexion when you apply a moisturiser, which prevents them from exfoliating and shedding like they would naturally.

“The thick layer of dead skin cells stuck to the skin will make your complexion look dull,” he says. “The mother cells deep in the epidermis will stop dividing and creating new cells, due to the accumulation of dead skin on the surface.”

Healthy skin generally renews itself every 28 days
Moisturiser can clog pores, halting the body’s natural exfoliation process

In essence, the less your skin exfoliates naturally, the less the new cells will be encouraged to regenerate. 

Another reason Dr Obagi is against moisturiser: He believes that if you use it daily over time, it can change your skin’s natural balance of water, lipids, and proteins. The result? Your body will stop delivering the skin’s normal, natural method of hydration from within.

“When the imbalance of water, lipids, and proteins is altered using moisturisers, the skin’s ability to act as a strong barrier to protect our inner organs will be weakened,” he explains. What about sensitive skin issues? Well, he also blames that on moisturiser, saying your skin becomes weaker and less tolerant after three to four weeks of only using moisturiser. He states that those who use moisturisers alone long-term, will induce skin weakness as well as epidermal thinning.

Should I Use a Moisturizer?

In short, no.

The most important thing Dr Obagi says to remember is that you should be using products that enhance your skin’s natural exfoliation process, instead of stifling it—or, as he puts it, “eliminating surface dead cells and allowing the mother cells to create a new generation of cells for renewal.”

Look for ingredients like retinol and antioxidants in your serums and skincare products, which exfoliate your skin and are gentle enough for those with sensitive skin.

He also states; “Only a small percentage of people who have certain genetic disorders have actual skin dryness.” What he’s saying is that most people who consider themselves as having ‘dry skin’ actually just need help “building stronger barrier functions, using enhancers that regulate skin cell renewal, and stimulators that boost certain cellular functions within the skin.”

What If I Currently Use Moisturiser?

Go cold turkey —even in the winter — and wait three to six weeks. As your skin breaks the addiction, you may feel dry and irritable and feel as if your skin may feel like it’s missing something. But in the end, the withdrawal will be worth it!

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