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Dermatologist says no one ‘actually requires moisturizer’ — is that true?

Some experts believe that it's not necessary to moisturize skin as the body is already equipped to do it on its own. .
Some experts believe that it's not necessary to moisturize skin as the body is already equipped to do it on its own. . Getty Images

How’s this for a skincare curve ball: there are dermatologists out there who believe that we don’t need to use moisturizer.

Dr. Zein Obagi, a Beverly Hills-based dermatologist and founder of ZO Skin Health, says that using moisturizer could actually be detrimental to skin.

“When you use moisturizer every day, you run the risk of making your skin older, not younger,” he said to Refinery29. “If you apply a lot of moisture, skin will become sensitive, dry, dull, and interfere with natural hydration.”

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Dry skin: Here’s the difference between lotions, creams and ointments
Dry skin: Here’s the difference between lotions, creams and ointments

Obagi believes that our skin gets used to being provided with moisture and therefore stops producing its own — and it’s a problem, since our natural moisture is the real thing that keeps skin looking youthful and healthy.

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“The tree gets its nutrients from the ground,” he offers by way of analogy. “No matter how much you spray the tree, it will become dry.”

So what does our skin require? Cleansing, stimulation and protection (namely SPF), he says.

“Almost zero per cent of my patients actually require a moisturizer.”

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He links our use — and in fact, “abuse” — of moisturizer to cosmetic companies who pushed it on consumers in the 1950s and 1960s because it was so easy to formulate and sell, calling it “brainwashing.”

It’s a radical and controversial stance, but other experts tend to agree.

“I think what he’s saying is correct,” says Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, founder of Bay Dermatology Centre in Toronto. “We do too much to our skin and it’s already very capable of doing many things.”

Skotnicki, who recently authored the book Beyond Soap, believes that people have a tendency to over-wash, which inherently dries out skin.

READ MORE: A Hong Kong woman killed her parents, herself because of eczema. Is the condition linked to mental health?

“People wash and shower every day and by doing that, you’re removing some of the skin’s abilities to do what it does. Water and detergent remove natural oils; if we didn’t live in the society we live in [with its concept of daily washing], you wouldn’t have to moisturize at all.”
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She concedes that people with skin issues, like eczema and psoriasis, need extra hydration because their skin doesn’t function properly, but for the rest, it’s practically unnecessary.

“A bit of moisturizer isn’t a bad thing, but it’s the thought process of the beauty industry that says to moisturize all the time,” she says. “But the reality is that it’s not even that effective. When you put on something like an eye cream, you’ll get an immediate response, but after 15 minutes, it goes away.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should cleanse and go without adding a layer of SPF to your skin.

“That’s not about moisturizing,” Skotnicki says. “People get the idea of protecting skin from UV exposure, but pollution is actually skin’s biggest ager because it oxidizes, so it’s best to use a product with a physical aspect, like titanium dioxide or zinc, which provides protection from UV rays and pollution. Plus, it can add some moisturization, too.”

READ MORE: Itchy and scratchy: Two new treatments may offer hope for eczema sufferers

But even if you have dry, flaky skin, Skotnicki says moisturizer isn’t necessary unless it’s causing discomfort.

“Men come into my office all the time and show me their dry legs and ask me if they should moisturize,” Slotnicki said. “And I always ask if they feel itchy. If they say no, I tell them they don’t have to.”

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In fact, she says, this is a message dermatologists have been sending for years, it’s just that Obagi used different (more controversial) language.

Breaking the cycle of moisturizer isn’t without its withdrawal period, however. Your skin will likely feel dry at first, but this doesn’t last long.

“Scientifically, the very top layer of your skin turns over every two weeks, so I’d say it would take about two to four weeks for you to have new skin that won’t require moisturizing.”

And with full-blown winter still about six weeks away, now’s the time to give this radical idea a shot.

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