Water-Based Skincare Products?

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Another day, another beauty trend. This morning, WWD says that water is the hottest new ingredient to hit beauty, since, well, water. In “Latest Asian Beauty Wave Washes Ashore,” the paper lists a slew of brands which have just released or are about to release water-based skincare products to a market full of women suffering from sub-par hydration. I’m no dermatologist, but I’ve read enough product labels to think to myself, “Aren’t most skincare products water-based?” True, oils have enjoyed the limelight for the past couple of years, but a quick scan of the formulas in your shower or medicine cabinet would confirm that water-based products are the norm, not the anomaly. To make sure, I called New York-based dermatologist and DermTV founder Dr. Neal Schultz.

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When I asked Schultz about this newfangled water idea, if it was just a gimmick or really was going to revolutionize skincare, he asked me how many years I’d worked in beauty—three—and my age: 30. “So you have three years in this sphere, and 27 years of life experience. You sound like a smart girl, go with your gut,” he says, debunking the idea with a laugh. “This is like going out and reinventing the wheel; it is strictly marketing and packaging.”

The dermatologist confirmed that most skincare is in fact water-based, because that’s what most people need, making the formulas listed in today’s article practical, if not revolutionary, products. “You have oil glands that make oil and water glands that make water,” says Schultz. “If they’re balanced, you have normal skin, unbalanced and you have oily or dry skin, and sometimes combination skin. Those are the four classic types of skin, but there’s one more type people don’t talk about: mature skin.” And that parchment-like skin of people in their 70s and 80s is the only type of skin that should be using oil-based anything, says Schultz. (If you like the way oil feels, and it doesn’t make you break out, he says it’s fine to use, but calls that “such a small portion of the population.”) “The new normal is combination skin, so of course all skincare products need to be water-based.”

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WWD writes, “water-based formulas…are said to deeply penetrate into skin,” but Dr. Schultz says that’s simply not true. “Wetting the skin and making it moist can enhance the penetration of certain ingredients, but you can’t walk around with wet skin all day, unless you’re a porpoise.” He says the key to well-hydrated skin is humectants and emollients. Humectants—ingredients like aloe vera, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid—pull water from the air into the skin. Emollients trap the moisture in (like oil), and include ceramides and dimethicone. If you read the labels of your skincare products, you’re familiar with both.

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What’s not key to hydrating skin, says Dr. Schultz, is actually drinking water. There go my 30 years of life experience. “We have no idea who said drink 8 glasses a day and why they said it, absolutely no idea,” he says. “You’d have to be severely dehydrated for drinking water to make any difference in your skin.” So unwilling was I to let my most deeply held beauty belief fly out the window that I looked for more evidence. And sure enough, the Mayo clinic writes, “Although the ‘8 by 8’ rule isn’t supported by hard evidence, it remains popular because it’s easy to remember.”

That’s enough debunking for one day.