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Pick the right moisturiser - and use it

Joyce Teo finds out what to look for when choosing a moisturiser for your skin type

Moisturisers trap water in your skin, and can help to improve your skin barrier function temporarily.

People who have eczema, a non-contagious skin condition that causes dry, itchy skin and rashes, cannot live without moisturisers, although many still do not use them often enough.

A moisturiser is only as good as the amount you use, said Dr Tey Hong Liang, consultant dermatologist at the National Skin Centre.

So, it would be wise to choose one you would want to use. Here are a few points worth noting:


Most moisturisers contain a combination of ingredients that:

  • smoothen the skin (emollients);
  • keep it moist, by absorbing water from the air (humectants); and
  • form a layer on the skin that prevents water loss (occlusives).

Make your choice based on your skin type, age and specific concerns such as acne or itch.

Those with eczema can look for products with moisturising ingredients such as paraffin, glycerin and ceramides as well as those which are acidic - having a pH level of about 5 to 5.5 - which matches that of the skin, said Dr Tey.

A product with a high concentration of ceramides - a fatty component of the walls of skin-surface cells - is favoured but is likely to cost more,„he added.

Dr Gavin Ong, a dermatologist at The Skin Specialist in Paragon shopping centre, said: "The more premium (also more effective) moisturisers also contain additional ingredients such as ceramides."

Brands that specialise in skin care products for eczema patients make better moisturisers than the run-of-the-mill brands, he said.

Some products for eczema patients have added ingredients.

An eczema balm - its base formula was first designed and created by Dr Tey in 2011 - contains ceramides to moisturise, and menthol to relieve itch. It was launched at Watsons and OG in January.

There are also skin moisturisers that contain dexpanthenol, which has wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to reducing itch, said Dr Eileen Tan, a dermatologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.


Expensive products are not necessarily superior. Also, if the product costs a lot, a patient may apply too little of it , said Dr Tey.

Creams containing fragrances and many botanicals may raise the risk of getting contact dermatitis, a skin rash caused when an irritant substance touches the skin.

Those with skin conditions that require regular use of moisturisers should look for products that do not block skin pores and are fragrance-free.

The products should not contain parabens - preservatives often used in cosmetics - and other ingredients like those for anti-ageing or whitening purposes, said Dr Ong. "The most common skin reaction to moisturisers comes from the fragrances they contain."

Dr Tey said those with eczema or sensitive skin have to be aware that they are more prone to developing an irritation and allergic reaction to the creams they apply.

If using a new cream, they should first apply it over a small area to see if it causes any irritation.

If there are no problems, they can then gradually use it over bigger areas over a few days.


This is the feeling you get upon applying a cream or lotion.

Ask yourself if you like the feel of the product upon application and whether it requires much effort to rub it into the skin, suggested Dr Tey. "An uncomfortable and sticky feel tends to deter people from using the product frequently." Eczema sufferers should also check if a product causes a stinging sensation when applied over their lesions.

A good-to-use moisturiser is one that leaves a durable moisturising layer on the skin but does not impart an undesirable sticky feel when applied, he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2016, with the headline Pick the right moisturiser - and use it . Subscribe