Dewy. Fresh. Quenched. Are those words that apply to your skin, or are you more: Thirsty. Parched. Sahara-dry…? If you fall into the latter category, welcome to the club, because it happens to us all: the sensation that our skin’s too tight for our face, the texture that resembles crêpe paper if we don’t keep slathering on creams, and perhaps even itching. Mostly, skin starts to dry out from 40 onwards, as soon as hormone levels start to drop. But in our modern, hermetically-sealed world, it’s a common skin woe at all ages: air-conditioned or centrally-heated air literally sucks the moisture out of skin. (And turning up of the thermostat at work and at home at this time of year just makes dry skin – as well as those heating bills – worse.)
Until fairly recently, I didn’t give my own dry face and body too much thought. Yes, my skin often feels like it’s a size 10 and I’m a size 12, and absorbs skin creams so greedily you can almost hear the slurping. But every so often, in my glamorous life as a beauty editor (in between taking tea with make-up artists, playing with next season’s colours and Eurostarring to Paris for fragrance launches, naturellement), I hear something that makes me do a double-take. There I was (at the St. Martin’s Lane Hotel, as it happens), listening to Lancaster cosmetics’ in-house skin boffin Professor Leonard Zastrow talking about sun damage, when he flashed up a slide that declared: ‘Dry skin is a cause of premature ageing’. Yes, I knew that the crêpe paperiness, the tautness and the thirstiness were a well-known sign of ageing – but a cause? I collared the professor, at the end, to ask for an explanation.
If you’re ready for the science bit, it goes like this. In well-hydrated skin, so the professor explained, the cells in our skin communicate efficiently. They tell each other to produce more elastin and more collagen (which gives skin its ‘bounce-back’ factor), and all the other good things skin needs. But when skin’s dry, there are gaps between the cells. (Under a microscope, those gaps look scarily like Grand Canyons.) There’s a communication breakdown. Cells aren’t getting the right message – so production of collagen and elastin slows. What’s more, in dry skin, cell turnover can slow down from 28 to 40 days. (Which explains why dry skin often = dull skin). The natural healing process is slower, too. And you know what? It’s a vicious circle: the drier our complexions, the more of that precious water escapes – because the all-important barrier (which keeps moisture in and irritants out) is impaired.
This whole dry skin/ageing link was so revolutionary, though, that I spoke to Origins’ Director of Technical Development Lieve DeClerq – another skin expert whose opinions I respect. ‘Yes,’ agreed Lieve. ‘Dryness absolutely can be a cause of skin ageing.’ It might help to think of electrical wires, she suggested: when there’s a loose connection and they aren’t touching, the charge doesn’t get through. But water is a wonderful conductor of electricity – and so it is with skin. Keep it dewy, plumped up and optimally-moisturised, ‘and that’s one of the biggest favours you can do your complexion,’ smiled Lieve. Well, I’ve always known that moisturiser magically reduces the appearance of wrinkles almost faster than you can say ‘Paul Daniels.’ Now, it seems, regular use can keep those wrinkles at bay for longer. And suddenly, I’m looking at my moisturiser in a whole new light – as the ultimate elixir of youth, even before the addition of any anti-ageing ingredients.
So: what of anti-ageing creams themselves, I hear you chorus? Absolutely nothing wrong with them – provided they’re adequately quenching for your skin type: remember, they’re essentially moisturisers, plus a dollop of other anti-ageing ingredients like vitamins, peptides etc. (And as we’ve seen from the performance of creams like Temple Spa Skin Truffle, those age-defying ingredients really can have incredibly impressive effects.)
But above all, as we turn on the heating and (*sob) the skin-sapping autumn winds continue to blow, remember the skincare professionals’ mantra: ‘moisturise, moisturise, moisturise’. In the war against ageing, that simple pot of skin goodness is a surprisingly powerful weapon…