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Do you hear a humming noise? You should, because running a humidifier is one of the many ways you can help keep your skin stay happy and hydrated all winter long. Of course, there are tons of topical options, too, but it's not as simple as slathering on the thickest cream you can find and saying a prayer.
With that in mind, for the latest episode of Allure's The Science of Beauty podcast — the second installment of our three-part K-beauty miniseries — hosts Michelle Lee, editor in chief, and Jenny Bailly, executive beauty director, decided to dive face-first into the world of hydration.
On this episode, they nerd out with Christine Lee, a senior research and development manager with AHC (Korea's number-one skin-care brand), over how hydrating products actually work, and then they pick up some practical tips from New York City dermatologist Claire Chang (who travels to South Korea monthly). The whole episode (available wherever you get your podcasts) is a must-listen, but we’ve shared some of the highlights below.
How to Know If Your Skin Is Dehydrated
Let's start with the basics. What does "hydration" mean in the context of skin? “In short, hydration means increasing the skin's water content,” says Christine Lee. "But really, at the end of the day, dry skin is more than just a lack of water. When your skin is dry or dehydrated, it can start to appear flaky, dull…tight, irritated."
These are all signs that the healthy biological processes of your skin are breaking down. "[The] skin's normal renewal processes have slowed down in the absence of sufficient hydration, which then leads to further dryness, [which] starts to pull your skin into this downward spiral," adds Lee. Cue the dramatic sound effects.
It's for this reason that promoting hydration is one of the key tenets of K-beauty. "That chok chok look is very popular [in South Korea]," says Chang. "Chok chok means moist and damp and hydrated all at the same time." So, the opposite of the qualities associated with dehydrated skin.
This also feels like a good time to note that even if your skin is naturally oily, you don't get a free pass: All skin types can get dehydrated, says Chang. "Those with oily skin can still have dehydrated skin, which means it can have high sebum levels, but low water content," she adds. And since those with oily skin can be more prone to acne, and in turn, use drying or irritating ingredients like benzoyl peroxide to treat it, that goes double: "Skin hydration is even more important [for] those patients to maintain a healthy skin barrier," says Chang.
The Best Skin-Care Products for Hydration
The best offense is a good defense. And in this case, what we're defending against is transepidermal water loss. "Water is constantly evaporating through the living layers of our skin towards the dry outside world," says Christine Lee. "Some water flux is really necessary for the skin to function normally. But what you're really trying to avoid is excessive water loss."
That said, the products that prevent transepidermal water loss most successfully are designed to replenish our natural lipid barrier. There are three types of formulas that help to hydrate skin: emollients soothe and soften the skin, humectants attract and bind moisture to the skin and help retain moisture as well, and occlusives create a barrier to seal in moisture.
Some hydrating products, like those in AHC's Aqualuronic range, combine multiple hydrating mechanisms in one. AHC Aqualuronic Cream, for example, includes both hyaluronic acid (a humectant that binds up to 1,000 times its weight in water) and ceramides (a type of lipid that helps repair the skin barrier). You can get a similar effect using multiple products by applying, for example, a hyaluronic acid serum (humectant) followed by a ceramide-rich cream (emollient) and sealing it all in with a face oil (occlusive).
AHC Aqualuronic Cream
Other Ways to Keep Skin Hydrated
Of course, if you're looking to reverse that downward spiral that is dehydrated skin even faster, you can consider implementing changes that go beyond your skin-care routine. Both Christine Lee and Chang are big believers in humidifiers, particularly if you live in a dry climate or blast a heater during the winter. "I definitely recommend using a humidifier to increase the air humidity so that the air [isn't] seeking out the moisture from your skin," says Chang.
Chang also suggests reevaluating how you shower. She says it's ideal to limit showers to five to 10 minutes (we know, we know) and to use lukewarm water. (Seriously, we're really sorry.) Prolonged hot showers can dry out your skin, says Chang, as can soaps and detergents that strip away natural oils.
On the flip side, despite what you've read in every celebrity interview ever, drinking water won't necessarily give you glowing, hydrated skin. "Even though the skin is our largest organ…it is the least vital when it comes to receiving nutrients and water from what we eat and drink," says Lee. And that's why, she says, it's "so critical that you provide skin hydration from the outside."
Our Hosts' Favorite Ways to Hydrate
Boosting hydration is one of the primary goals of both her morning and evening skin-care routines, says Michelle. She's a fan of AHC Aqualuronic Emulsion, a lightweight, milky moisturizer that helps primes the skin for subsequent steps, as well as Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Hyaluronic Marine Hydration Booster, which is loaded with tried-and-true hyaluronic acid. She also dabbles in the world of snail mucin (which some small studies have shown is similarly hydrating) by way of Mizon Snail Repair Intensive Ampoule.
AHC Aqualuronic Emulsion
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Hyaluronic Marine Hydration Booster
Mizon Snail Repair Intensive Ampoule
Michelle also loves trying the hydrating sheet masks included in her monthly FaceTory box. “I have a bunch of those in my drawer that I'll bring out on a Saturday or Sunday," says Michelle. "On [weekend] mornings, I love to get a really juicy sheet mask going."
Jenny's Current Favorites
Jenny, too, has a thing for hyaluronic acid. She likes hers in the form of SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator, which contains five different types. La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum is another favorite. At night, she likes to top her hyaluronic acid serum of choice with a richer formula, like Fresh Black Tea Age-Delay Cream or Olay Regenerist Whip Facial Moisturizer.
SkinMedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator
La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Pure Hyaluronic Acid Face Serum
Fresh Black Tea Age-Delay Cream
Olay Regenerist Whip
And when you listen to our episode, you'll learn Jenny feels very passionately about humidifiers (but her husband, not so much). Her favorite is by Canopy: "My issue with humidifiers is always cleaning them out," she says. "And this one has a separate compartment that you just fill up with water; it stays super clean."
The Bottom Line
Between running a humidifier, remembering to turn down the temperature of your shower, and, of course, utilizing a carefully selected combination of products, keeping your skin hydrated can feel like a full-time job. But since hydrated skin is healthy, glowing skin, your dedication certainly won’t go unrewarded.
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