We absolutely need water. Our body is composed of half to three quarters water, on average and depending on age. We require water intake to survive — in fact, most of us don’t drink nearly enough water. Absorbing water into our body orally has a host of amazing benefits.
But when it comes to externally — our skin layer — not so much. Of course, splashing water on your face and showering aren’t bad for you. And while we have probably all been taught the simple regimen of washing your face with soap and water, the reality is that putting too much water on your skin, especially when it’s combined with other things, can be very damaging.
HOW DOES WATER DAMAGE OUR SKIN?
Your skin has what is called a Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF) — all on its own, a layer of your epidermis called the stratum corneum has water-soluble compounds that keep your skin hydrated. When water comes into contact with the skin, however, it quickly evaporates. When it does so, it takes many of those natural protective oils right along with it. Repeatedly washing your face with water actually dries out your skin; the more frequently your skin is washed this way, or that you use products that have a large amount of water in them, the drier your skin will get. And if the water is chlorinated or very hot, the effect is even worse.
WHAT ABOUT PRESERVATIVES?
Preservatives are added into skin and body care products (among many other things) to keep the other ingredients from breaking down or spoiling, so that the product lasts longer. The problem with this is that a whole lot of the preservative ingredients that most manufacturers use are pretty nasty. Some of these “dirty little secrets” include things like Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and parabens, both of which are known hormone or endocrine disruptors and possible human carcinogens, among other bad-for-you chemicals. One study found that preservatives have been reported extensively as a cause of allergic contact dermatitis.
HOW CAN I BE “WATER SMART” WITH MY SKIN?
When you think of all the ways in which your skin comes into contact with water on a daily basis, avoiding it seems pretty difficult. We shower, rinse our faces, swim, perhaps use hot tubs or steam rooms. But by being conscious about it, you can still avoid drying your skin out with too much water exposure.
- Avoid water that’s too hot, especially on your face. A really hot shower may feel great, but the hotter the water, the harder it is on skin. The temperature should be tepid, not scorching.
- Keep shower time short. Like a hot shower, a really long shower is sometimes in order to wash away the day and melt stress. But for the most part, lengthy showers just prolong your skin’s exposure to NMF-stripping water.
- Be careful with soap use. You don’t need to use soap every time you shower, especially with the regular daily activity most of us have in the home, school or office. If you’ve been working in the garden or a construction site, then you might want to scrub away some with soap. Otherwise, limit it to areas like the armpits and genitals, and for the rest of your body let the water clean it naturally, or use body cleansers with emollients or specifically made for dry skin.
- Pat, don’t rub, your skin dry. Rubbing too hard with a towel can just exacerbate the drying effect. Just pat the skin instead until you aren’t dripping wet.
- Moisturize while your skin is still damp. A good face and body moisturizer with nourishing ingredients (avoid harmful chemicals!) can help hydrate. For maximum effect, you should apply while the skin is still damp, just after you’ve patted down excess water.
- Be careful with exfoliation. While it might feel good to think you’re sloughing off a lot of dead skin cells and other nasties, exfoliating too much or too harshly just strips away your skin’s natural oils and can damage it.
WHAT OTHER THINGS SHOULD CONSUMERS BE CAREFUL ABOUT WHEN IT COMES TO WATER AND PRESERVATIVES?
There are both naturally-derived and synthetic preservatives, and many of the natural ones are safe and effective at preventing spoilage of products and providing antimicrobial properties. The organic breakdown of skin care products largely occurs because of the water in them, because water is an environment in which microbes grow and thrive.
Water-free products, on the other hand, don’t generally require preservatives, as they aren’t prone to microbial contamination. So win-win — by choosing to avoid products made with water for skin and body care, you can also much more easily avoid any harmful preservatives.