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Do I Really Really Need to Moisturize?

By Amalah

Since I rely on you for skincare advice, and have started using a number of Philosophy products religiously since you recommended them (for which my face totally owes you thanks and possibly a beer), I of course thought of you when faced with a skincare question no one else seemed to be able to answer. Could *everyone* benefit from a good moisturizer?
I am plagued with adult acne, which is mostly kept under control with prescriptions (antibiotics and Retin-A), but I still get the extra-shiny T-zone every day. My chin/cheeks aren’t particularly greasy (though I still break out there), but don’t appear dry either. I wear sunblock daily (the Neutrogena SPF 30 kind, which I think also came from your recommendation), and a little loose powder, and that’s usually it in the summertime. In the cooler months, I mix a little Laura Mercier foundation with the sunblock, and apply it with my fingers. I always assumed that the sunblock (or sunblock/foundation combo) provided some level of moisturizing, but lately I’ve noticed my skin seeming a little…dull. I don’t know if it’s just my age (almost 30), or if moisturizer would help. The obvious answer would be just to get some moisturizer already and try it out, but I’m nervous about making my skin break out. What would you advise?
Many, many thanks –

Oh my lands, you are me! Or, you are the me of a few years ago. In my mind moisture = oil = zits, and I refused to use any.
I was wrong, of course. Very wrong. It’s all about balance, and moisture is ESSENTIAL to the health of your skin. In fact, adding the right kind of (gentle, oil-free) moisture can actually REDUCE breakouts and shiny slicks because your skin is no longer overcompensating for a lack of natural moisture.
And I’m guessing, what with the antibiotics and Retin-A, that’s exactly what’s going on with your skin. I totally understand the need for a hard-line approach to adult acne, but the lack of balance in your skincare routine is probably what’s causing the greasy T-zone. I know it was for me, and I stupidly responded with MORE oil-control products, which only fouled things up even more.
You’ll notice that even the skincare regimen at includes a moisturizer as an essential step for just this very reason. (Speaking of which, has anyone tried out the founder’s new line of products? If so, what do you think?)
As for the SPF/moisturizer thing — only the combination moisturizer/sunscreen products actually contain a real facial moisturizer. The Neutrogena sunblock does not. It’s great for fighting the long-term damage of the sun (wrinkles!), and I’m thrilled to hear that it doesn’t make you break out, but it’s not a moisturizing product.
For a product that does it all (moisture + oil control + dullness fighting), you know I freaking love Philosophy’s Hope in a Bottle exfoliating moisturizer for oily skin. I probably tried dozens of oil-free moisturizers before this one — including the ones my dermatologist recommended — and never liked any of them. My only concern for you, however, is that it contains a small amount of salicylic acid. Which is great for fighting zits and blackheads, but I don’t know if it should be used in conjunction with Retin-A. It could irritate your skin, so maybe ask your doctor or test it out at Sephora before you buy.
While most people don’t have problems with Philosophy’s Hope in a Jar moisturizer (which is for all skin types and what I use on my cheeks and next), a couple people have emailed me to complain about breakouts.
So, I’m not sure I can provide you with the perfect specific recommendation here (I think Cetaphil’s moisturizer is greasy and I don’t like any of the drugstore brands I’ve tested). I mean, I love you guys, but I refuse to futz around with my own skin’s delicate balance just to increase my product repertoire and knowledge. But I can tell you what to look for, and then open it up to the peanut gallery for their recommendations. You want oil-free, but probably need to stay away from anything labeled “oil-control” while you use Retin-A. Your prescriptions make your skin sensitive, so look for products specifically for sensitive skin and fragrance-free.
Whatever you use, however, give yourself two weeks before deciding if something isn’t for you. There will be an adjustment period. If, after two weeks, your skin seems worse instead of better, by all means chuck the product and tell me to go to hell. Nicely, though. Please.

Published September 7, 2007. Last updated September 7, 2007.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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