Is moisturizer actually bad for your skin?

It's a question we never thought we'd ask ourselves.

Close-up of young mixed-race woman applying white face cream face, face mask, eyes closed, with turquoise background
(Image credit: Jonathan Knowles/Getty Images)

For most of us, applying moisturizer twice a day is hardwired into our DNA. It's as automatic a reflex as brushing our teeth and the word alone conjures up images of a comforting blanket of product that nannies skin into feeling softer and plumper. So the idea of rethinking that relationship is actually blowing our minds. 

Can moisturizer make my skin dry?

The argument for skipping moisturizer is that it makes skin lazy and less able to hydrate itself.

According to dermatologist Dr Rachael Eckel: "Skin already naturally produces water, lipids and protein. If you artificially saturate the skin surface with moisture, this sends a signal to cells to stop producing these nutrients. The epidermis shrivels and thins, and fine lines start to appear."

In fact, Dr Eckel believes that only 15 per cent of us actually need to invest in creams: those with genetically dry skin and those with eczema. 

Her other argument for going without is that moisturizers, in general, reduce your skin’s natural ability to exfoliate:

"Not only is it making skin drier, it’s also making it dull, slowing down cellular turnover by basically pushing the skin cells down, flattening them and not allowing them to self-exfoliate."

Hence, for Dr Eckel, the gold-standard skincare regime includes exfoliants, oil-free serums with vitamins and SPF50 by day and the best retinol serums for overnight to speed up cell renewal and trigger natural hydration.

Hailey Bieber's favorite aesthetic doctor, Dr Barbara Sturm, concurs that rich, unctuous creams can suffocate pores: "If your skin is constantly laden with very rich moisturizers, it sends a signal to its water reservoirs to say that it has enough water, lipids and proteins so it starts to produce less hydration and nutrients on its own."

But Dr Sturm believes the key for creating balanced skin isn't skipping face cream altogether but finding the right type of moisturizer, especially when it comes to the best moisturizers for dry skin.

She explains: "It’s more important to choose products that sufficiently care for the skin in the first instance; hydrating ingredients such as glycerin, panthenol, urea and hyaluronic acid attract water molecules and add them back to the skin."