Am I...Moisturizing Wrong?


Bro, do you even moisturize? Are you slapping your soft cheeks with some special cream every morning and night, waiting for all signs of aging to miraculously transpose onto an oil portrait (of your cat) in an attic? Or, more realistically, hoping for simple hydration, a lack of visible dragon scales, and a smooth canvas upon which to place kisses?


But then I got to wondering: There’s toner, serum, moisturizer, maybe primer, foundation, concealer on top. So many ways to lock in moisture, are they all necessary? Define necessary! Immediately, overwhelmed. To make sense of moisturizer, its role in the universe, its role in taking my money, and the most common moisturizing mistakes I'm probably making all the while, I called up skincare queen Sunday Riley, because we’re both from Houston, Texas, and I liked that detail. And because I stan for her product, Tidal Water Cream, an oceanic lightweight gel moisturizer that gives me a cheekbone glow (and has a pleasant salty cucumber scent), but which also confuses me sometimes. I love it, I buy it, but am I getting the most out of it by sticking my grubby fingers into it and smearing it across my face? Maybe not. Sunday set me straight. Turns out, you could be sabotaging your moisture levels if you...

Overthink the routine

When she’s minding her own business buying tortillas or whatever, sometimes Sunday finds herself chatting up strangers about skincare. Their #1 question? Soooo what’s the routine? “Strangers I meet on the street will say, how do I use these products together? They want a blueprint,” said Sunday. They want to know the exact order and what specific products to layer on, and how they work together. Pshh, chill. This isn’t the Pythagorean theorem. Keep it simple, focus on what you want to accomplish, then find a product that aims to do that (anti-aging, brightening, extreme mega moisture, oil/acne control). As you learn more about skincare—hopefully from trustworthy sources cough cough and maybe a little bit of Reddit—slowly add more products to the routine (because it’s fun, because the economy isn’t going to sit there and support itself.) Or not. One might be enough.

Underthink your cleanser

Sunday has a cousin. And the cousin noticed her skin was dry in spots and wanted to fix that with an intense moisturizer. But you know what was causing the dry spots? Super harsh cleanser she’d been using since she was a teenager. If dryness is a concern, assess your cleanser situation and maybe try something gentler, like Philosophy’s famous low-key Purity Made Simple, Kiehl’s Calendula Face Wash, or a recent fave of mine, Aesop’s Fabulous Face Cleanser (ugh, take my whole wallet). Those are three I’ve used, sound off in the comments on the rest.

Are being stingy

C’mon, use a nickel sized amount, not a wee Karma Bead (remember those bracelets at the mall?). Get good and moisturized, and do NOT neglect the neck and boobisphere. If you happen to have extra on your fingers, do like Sunday and rub it into your hands and cuticles.

Mess with the chemistry

If you’re putting on foundation or whatever on top of moisturizer, wait a sec before layering it on. Sunday’s system: “I put my moisturizer on, and then I go about doing other things, and then I put my makeup on so that my skincare has had a chance to sink in and it’s not so wet and dewy that it affects my foundation application and prevents it from setting properly.”

Torture Yourself

Watching my domestic partner apply moisturizer is like watching Tarzan’s first encounter with Jane’s face cream. He scrunches up his face and uses nearly his entire palm, rubbing all over with speed and a misplaced sense of purpose. "What the hell are you doing??" I ask. He replies with a grunt. I’m not saying you need to apply moisturizer with a delicate Tinkerbell touch, but per Sunday, if you have skin prone to breaking out and rebelling against you—don’t “be too aggressive in the rubbing,” she said, “because if you have surface inflammation, you don’t want to irritate your skin.”

Don't Wash Your Hands Enough

Chances are, you dunk your paws in a tub of moisturizer and get to rubbing it in on that beautiful face of yours. I’ve seen it, it’s beautiful! But did you wash your hands? Moisturizer can be an important layer between you and the world, the world of pollution and other people’s farts and God knows what else. But if you don’t wash your hands before applying, you’re germing it up yourself!

Make assumptions

“There’s a misconception that gel creams are only for oily skin people and that the heavier stuff is for dry-skinned people,” explained Sunday when I asked her about Tidal Water Cream's signature gel-like texture. “I use Tidal all the time, which is oil-free, but it’s high in humectants (aka substances that retain moisture), and I love it—and I have very dry skin." Ingredients, it turns out, can do more for you than format. Depending on your skin type, you want to look for either humectants, occlusives, or both. A humectant attracts and puts moisture back into your skin. (So all of those hyaluronic acid creams you’re seeing lately, like Tidal. What you need when your skin is dry from the environment, just because, or all the lap-swimming you’ve been doing.) Meanwhile, occlusives prevent moisture from leaving the fortress of your face, usually heavier elements for very dry skin. Good creams might have both, but one without the other could be disastrous. Don't judge a book by its cover and don't judge a seriously good moisturizer by (only) its texture.

Only apply moisturizer once

Foundation tends to have a lot of minerals in it, which can dehydrate the skin and call for a refresh midday (thing I never do, preferring to let my makeup fade into sadness by 7 PM). “We have a lot of people who apply Tidal Water Creamon top of their foundation and throughout the day, a lot of professional makeup artists,” said Sunday, “to keep the skin hydrated, to keep their foundation fresh looking.” She suggests patting on a small dollop to keep from wiping anything off. I found this to be liberating information—do any of you do this on the regular? I’m curious as hell.

Phewph! Did we do it? Does moisturizer make a little more sense than before? If you’re still feeling like, "But what about meeeeeeee?" I’d suggest getting a one-on-one consultation from a derm or esthetician to figure out the most personalized routine for your skin. At some point, everyone’s cheeks are so different, there can’t be a one-size-fits-all answer and you’ll end up spending $$$ on moisturizers that bum you out. And we can’t have that.

—Alex Beggs

Photo via ITG.