Dry Skin Saviours: Lipids & Oils

UPDATED: 20/3/20

Dry skin can mean flaky, crocodile skin across the body, even in those who are usually pumping out sebum (oil) to beat the band. There are usually a few different reasons for this:

  • Cold weather: our sebaceous glands, aka the glands that pump out the sebum that keeps our skin lubricated and healthy, are less active in the cold months, meaning that our skin is lacking in it’s own natural moisturiser
  • Central heating, radiators and car heaters: dry heat from heaters strips our skin of hydration, leaving us with flaky, dry, cracking skin
  • Piping hot showers and baths: nothing is more comforting than starting a cold morning with a shower that is as hot as the flames of Hell but the last thing it does is comfort your skin - it’s really stripping it of its sebum

What this is doing is impairing the function of our skin’s barrier. For those who aren’t fluent in nerdie speak, this means that our skin’s protective coating, made up of dead skin cells and lipids (fats) is not able to work as it should.

Our skin’s barrier is what protects our skin from the elements, from things that may damage it and from irritants so what we may see when it is damaged is flaking, redness, patches, irritation, rashes and even breakouts. This is particularly pertinent to those with skin conditions that usually signify a “faulty” barrier, such as eczema or psoriasis.

There are plenty of things you can do to prevent and to help with the recovery of skin that has taken a blow from cold weather, including using thicker, emollient creams to create a physical shield across the surface of the skin. This time, we’re focusing on why lipids and oils in particular are beneficial when it comes to stop the dullness, dryness, flakiness and soreness associated with dry skin.

Lipids: their role in the skin

As very briefly mentioned above, lipids already play a pivotal role in the skin in that they help to make up our skin’s barrier. They are the cement between the bricks that are your skin cells. When our barrier is healthy and has enough lipids, our skin holds onto its own moisture quite successfully.

When our barrier is damaged, moisture leaks out through a process known as TEWL or transepidermal water loss. No matter how much water you’re taking in, if there’s a hole in a bucket, it’s not going to stay in there. Lipids you’ll find in the skin’s barrier:

  • Ceramides (sphingolipids) - waxy lipid molecules, main component of the stratum corneum (50%)
  • Cholesterol - yup, the very same one as you know from low-fat spread ads (25%)
  • Fatty acids - an assortment of them that make up 15%

Ceramides in skincare  

When we apply the lipids that naturally help to form the skin’s barrier to skin, it acts as an additional support to the skin’s own barrier and aids it in restoring itself. When we hear “natural skincare”, we think rosemary, lavender and other essential oils which are beneficial to the skin, depending on the formulation they are in, but products containing ceramides and lipids are the real form of natural skincare as they contain ingredients natural to the skin. What’s natural to a tree is not necessarily natural to me. 

If you’re fond of a thick, luxurious night cream, the IMAGE Vital C Hydrating Repair Creme could be a great option for you as it contains ceramides (obviously), as well as pure vitamin C aka l-ascorbic acid, hyaluronic acid in the form of sodium hyaluronate and phospholipids, a component of cell membranes.   

Another option would be Skingredients Skin Good Fats. Our ceramide-rich barrier balm can help to repair a wonky skin barrier as well as containing shea-butter glycerides to help soothe and nourish skin without blocking pores, and a patented anti-itch ingredient to soothe skin which might be feeling inflamed.

Fatty acids in skincare

Many natural oils are rich in fatty acids, specifically argan oil, macadamia nut oil, jojoba oil and avocado oil. We tend to find the highest amount of these natural oils in body oils. Some believe that body oils are only suited towards very dry skins but we all need our barrier to be functioning well. It’s especially important when it comes to our body as the sebaceous glands (ie. the glands that pump out sebum to keep our skin moisturised) in some areas like our legs are much more sparse! 


Squalane: the non-comedogenic oil thats brother is native to your skin

Certain oils and lipid-based products aren’t ideal for oilier and spot-prone skin types and can sit heavily on this type of skin, trapping sebum and aiding spots in forming. Even though some believe this not to be true, I see it happen with client’s skin and my own skin too.

This is where squalane steps up to the bat, especially in the cold months when even oily skin may be a bit dried out and dehydrated. Squalane is the saturated part of squalene, a substance that exists in our sebum. Although an oil, it is found to be incredibly beneficial to those with oilier or spot-prone skin without causing pesky surprise Franks (spots so big that you you need to name them) to pop up out of nowhere. 

Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid

Humectant ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, work by pulling water out of the air into the skin and/or drawing the skin’s moisture upwards towards the surface of the skin. When there is a lack of moisture in the air, and when the skin’s barrier is compromised, this can end up with the skin’s moisture simply being drawn straight out. It sounds bananas but it does make some logical sense.  

When you’re using humectants like hyaluronic acid to combat dry skin, make sure you’re layering it with lipidic, oil-based or generally emollient ingredients too, for example, within a product that also has squalane. This will ensure that you’re getting the plumping and the hydrating rather than simply dehydrating your skin further!

The nerdie recap on dry skin skincare, lipids & oils:

  • Turn down the heating and cool down your showers
  • The top layer of your skin is held together by lipids, specifically ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids
  • Squalane is a fab alternative to heavier, perhaps comedogenic oils for the oily and spot-prone in the colder months
  • Use your hyaluronic acid only with ingredients that will help to lock it in
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