Could You Survive Without Moisturizer?

A black woman applies moisturizer to her skin.

Jamie Grill / Getty Images

We're taught to believe it's the foundation of every good skincare regimen, but perhaps it's entirely unnecessary.

It has been two years since Daniela Morosini, a beauty journalist, gave up moisturizer. It may sound shocking -- isn't moisturizer supposed to be the foundation of every good skin care regimen? -- but Morosini goes on to explain in an article for Refinery29 how a crazy experiment turned out to be the best thing she's ever done for her skin.

Moisturizer, Morosini explains, has an immediate and short-lived effect. It feels good and makes a person believe they're doing something nourishing for their skin, when in reality it can mask the real issue. Dead skin is often mistaken for dry skin, a problem that should be resolved with thorough exfoliation. Morosini cites Kate Kerr, a clinical facialist:

"When you look in the mirror and see flaky dryness, your instinct is to reach for some lotion, apply it, and presto, you can’t see those flakes anymore, so you think the moisturizer has done its job, [but] all you’re doing is compressing down that dead skin, stopping it from shedding naturally, and impacting your skin’s barrier function."

It helps to understand what moisturizer is, too. Aesthetic doctor David Jack says moisturizers fall into a number of categories, including humectants (which draw water to the skin and helps to protect from water loss), occlusives (which form a physical barrier over your skin, albeit very thin), and emollients (which soften, rather than hydrate, the skin, and are usually petrochemical-based). The latter two don't provide the moisture skin really needs, which is why, if you do choose to buy a moisturizing product, you should go for a hyaluronic serum.

Both Jack and Kerr agree that exfoliation matters more than moisturizing, and yet this gets less attention in the beauty world. Said Kerr:

"So many people confuse dead skin with dry skin. Moisturizer impedes this process, and while exfoliation is often thought of as really harsh, it will actually strengthen your skin’s barrier function by stripping away weakened cells on the skin’s surface and letting stronger, fresher cells underneath come forward."

Morosini's article caught my attention because I, too, do not use moisturizer. Instead, I use pure oil on my face, such as sweet almond, jojoba, or grapeseed, but only when needed. Most of my reasoning for this is to avoid the additional ingredients that go into homogenizing an oil and turning it into a cream; it is purer and cleaner this way. I also make a point of drinking plenty of water to ensure my skin is being moisturized from within.

What I've learned over the years is, the less I do to my skin, the healthier it is. I try to avoid putting anything on my face -- no foundation, powder, or, despite being a pale redhead, even sunscreen unless I'm out for a prolonged period of time. (I need that vitamin D, too, and have been greatly influenced by this article on dealing with sunshine by the founder of RMS Beauty.) At night I use a natural olive oil bar soap only on my eyes to wash off the (natural) mascara and eye liner I wear, and rinse the rest of my face with water. In the morning, I exfoliate with a warm wash cloth, and use a few drops of facial oils. Once a week, I scrub my face with a divine-smelling sugar-oil scrub from Celtic Complexion.

If I drink enough water, get enough sleep, and spend some time outdoors each day, my skin clears up beautifully. But as soon as I start wearing more facial makeup and racking up a string of late nights (usually accompanied by glasses of wine), my face breaks out.

I may not be a dermatologist, but I am a woman who, like so many others, has spent a small fortune on skin care products over the years in hopes of finding that magic solution that solves every bump, zit, and spot. Like Morosini, I've learned that less is always more, and that is something you'll never find in any beauty aisle.