Moisturizers & Skin Care Chemistry

How Moisturizers Work

Moisturizing the nails and the skin around the nails (both hand and feet) improves their appearance while maintaining and improving nail health. Healthy skin around the nails is vital to growing healthy nails.

One of the primary elements in keeping skin healthy (thereby improving skin and nail health and beauty) is making sure the structure of the epidermis (outer layer of skin) is intact. That structure is defined and created by skin cells that are held together by the intercellular matrix. The intercellular matrix is the "glue" or “mortar” between skin cells that keep them together. It helps prevent individual skin cells from losing water and creates the smooth, non-flaky appearance of healthy, intact skin. The components that do this are called moisturizing factors (MFs). MFs are ingredients that mimic the structure and function of healthy skin. While the oil and fat components of skin prevent evaporation and provide lubrication to the surface of skin, it is actually the intercellular matrix along with the skin's lipid content that gives skin a good deal of its surface texture and feel.

The intercellular matrix is the skin’s first line of defense against water loss. When the lipid and MF content are reduced the skin will: develop fine lines and deep wrinkles, become rough, start flaking, and have a tight and uncomfortable feeling. The longer the skin’s surface layer (stratum corneum) is impaired, the less effective the skin’s intercellular matrix becomes, which in turn impairs the skin's healing process; thus a vicious cycle of drying, damage, and more dryness.

Skin moisturizers (lotions, oils, creams, etc), interrupt the cycle of drying and damaging skin by preventing evaporation of the MFs and providing a lubricated barrier. This barrier keeps current moisture in, while keeping external drying factors (water and chemicals) away.

Moisturizing Factors (Ingredients)

MFs make up an expansive group of ingredients that include: amino acids, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, cholesterol, fatty acids, triglycerides, phospholipids, glycosphingolipids, urea, lecithin, linoleic acid, glycosaminoglycans, glycerin, mucopolysaccharide, and sodium PCA (pyrrolidone carboxylic acid). Look for these ingredient names on professional products you use and recommend to your clients for home use.

Naturally Occurring Moisturizers

There are also a wide variety of “natural” ingredients that mimic the lipid content of skin. These include: apricot oil, canola oil, coconut oil, corn oil, jojoba oil, jojoba wax, lanolin, olive oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, shea butter, soybean oil, sweet almond oil, and vitamin E to name but a few. All of these products are easily accessible, safe, and extremely helpful for making dry skin look and feel better.

Water: The Most Important Moisturizer!

While moisturizers are valuable in protecting skin and nails (locking moisture in the cells and preventing evaporation of the MFs), the best protection is to prevent drying in the first place.

The secret is water:

  1. Get as much of it as you can and
  2. Stay away from it as much as possible. Not to worry, it's not as complicated as it sounds. Read on for the answer to this mystery.

Water, Water, Everywhere

To keep hands smooth, supple, and moisturized on the outside, we need to first moisturize from the inside! That means drinking water. Lots of water. The minimum has long been stated as 64 oz a day. That’s 8 x 8oz glasses or 4 x 16oz bottles of water per day. Soda pop, beverages that contain caffeine, and alcoholic drinks do not count. New research shows that 64oz may not be enough for many people. The new guidelines call for at least 1oz of water per each 2lbs of body weight. Thus, a 150lb person should consume 75 ounces, and a person who weighs 200lbs should drink 100ozs per day, every day. Our bodies are made up of over 70% water; water is vital to our health. Dehydration not only leads to dry skin, but a host of other disorders too numerous to mention.

Stay Out of the Water!

To prevent moisture loss from the outer most layers of our skin, we need to minimize exposure to water. Especially hot water. As we all know, prolonged exposure to water can cause skin to become dry (as you may have experienced after a particularly lengthy plunge in the hot tub). Water is a solvent (the universal solvent), and as so, it eventually breaks down (dissolves) almost every other chemical, including the natural MFs in skin, thus leaving it unprotected as more water leaches out even more of the natural lipids in skin. Household chemicals and cleaning products are also drying to the skin (even more so than water in many cases). Preventing moisture loss from water and chemicals is as simple as wearing water blocking gloves (such as dish washing or rubber gloves; add a thin cotton glove inside to prevent moisture build-up inside the glove). When avoiding water is impossible, then remember to keep water tepid (not too hot), limit exposure time, and moisturize afterward.

In this section we dealt only with the roles that water and moisture play in nail health. Continue reading in other sections for more information on nail health, diseases and disorders, and client instructions for maintaining nail health and beauty after they leave the salon.