How Dry You Are
your face, that is. plus, an update from Tokyo
New readers! Crowds of you suddenly gathering overnight! Look here to get an idea of what you’re in for. And as always, a thank you for taking the time to read HNTFUYF. Please tap the little ❤ above if you’re glad you’re not f*cking up your face.
I don’t get many emails from desperate readers; mostly you’re curious or maybe a little confused (understandably) about certain product or procedure claims. But I recently received an email from a most frustrated reader who couldn’t find a moisturizer that “sank into her skin.” She tried everything, she says, from serums to heavy creams to oils—but nothing worked against the persistent dryness. Moved by her plea, I emailed dermatologist Heidi Waldorf for advice.
And boy, did she have advice! And product recommendations! A bonanza of “heideas” for parched people everywhere! Here’s a slightly edited version of what she wrote:
To start at the sink: First, make sure your cleanser isn’t disrupting the stratum corneum, the epidermal layer of dead skin cells that provides a healthy barrier. Without that barrier, there’s no obstacle to transepidermal water loss (loss of hydration through the epidermis). I ask patients how their skin feels after washing; if it feels tight (unless that’s due to a necessary medicated cleanser), they’re using the wrong cleanser. I love Neostrata Foaming Glycolic Wash, Caudalie Vinoclean Instant Foaming Cleanser, Caudalie Vinoclean Gentle Cleansing Almond Milk, La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Facial Cleanser, La Roche-Posay Lipikar Wash Ap+ Moisturizing Body & Face Wash, and even old fashioned Dove bar soap.
Bottom-line: Do not strip your skin at the sink. [You can read more excellent advice about face-washing here.]
Now that your face is clean but unstripped, apply a hyaluronic acid serum before your moisturizing sunscreen or moisturizer. Hyaluronic acid acts like a microscopic sponge and holds moisture in the skin. There are many drugstore options, like Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Serum and L'Oréal Revitalift 1.5% Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum.
Don’t skip this next step: Always apply a moisturizer over the serum, because serums don’t contain ingredients that seal in moisture.
What should you look for in a moisturizer? You want a cream or lotion containing humectants like glycerin or hyaluronic acid, (again, to pull in and retain moisture); occlusives like butters or oils to help to seal in moisture; and emollients like dimethicone to give skin a silky feel. I don’t recommend using oils alone—they can only seal in moisture that’s already there, not add more. I’ve had a lot of success with Alastin Ultra Nourishing Moisturizer and their Ultra Light Moisturizer, because they’re easily absorbed and contain Alastin’s proprietary trihex peptide complex, which supports the maintenance and rejuvenation of elastin and collagen. Or you might try the Caudalie Vinosource-Hydra S.O.S Intense Moisturizer, La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer, or La Roche-Posay Lipikar AP+M Triple Repair Body Moisturizer for Dry Skin (which works for the face and body). Less expensive but equally effective is CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with niacinamide and a light texture that absorbs easily. [Val butting in here: I use CeraVe PM over a retinoid at night and like it a lot.] Avène moisturizers are also good.
If your face has dry, itchy spots, you could try an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream twice a day.
But when you’ve been a stellar student of moisturizing and your complexion refuses to reward you, it’s time to see your dermatologist. The problem could be related to sun damage or another dermatologic condition.
Please give a big, well-moisturized hand to Dr. Waldorf for generously sharing her time and expertise. And her love of products.
Speaking of seeing a doctor…
If you’re new to HNTFUYF, you may not know I’m currently in Japan on a special visa (as of this writing, the country is still closed to tourists except in small, approved groups) to visit my son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old granddaughter, M. I hadn’t been with them for over two and a half years due to the pandemic and I’ve been wildly excited to see them. In line with Murphy’s Law (if anything can go wrong, it will), I was in superb health for the several years I’ve been FaceTiming with my family. But shortly after arriving in Tokyo about a month ago, I began to have back issues. So I went to see an orthopedist, who ordered an X-ray of my back and then explained in the kindest tone that I had a herniated disk pressing against the sciatic nerve, causing my pain. It wasn’t very herniated, he said, so it might respond to medication and a medicated patch. I’ve already had one herniated disk, miraculously resolved by microdiscectomy (a quick, relatively simple curative spinal surgery). But now, in Japan, I need to make different decisions about how to manage the problem.
Doctors’ offices and clinics here frequently accept cash only and I’d brought just half the cash needed for my appointment. I waved my one 10,000 yen bill (about $76) in the air, repeating sadly and apologetically, “This is all I have with me.” After a quick, discreet chat, the office decided it was no problem. They would give me a bill and I could pay next time. They showed me what I owed for the doctor’s consultation, the X-ray, and the medications: A smidge over $200 for everything. The small staff lined up to bid goodbye in what felt like a blessing and I limped home—not happy about my diagnosis, but grateful for the enormous kindness. A doctor visit that wouldn’t break the bank and the trust that I’d show up again at some point with the full payment—these are among the many things that make me happy to be here in Tokyo.
And something else I love: the taxis. Climbing in, you feel like you’re entering a vehicular spa. The doors open and close automatically; in many cabs the seats are immaculately upholstered in a white doily fabric that always looks freshly laundered; you could eat off the floor; and the driver, in a dark suit jacket, tie, and often, white cotton gloves, makes you feel like a Bullock sister on her way to a gala in one of my favorite movies, My Man Godfrey. Now if only I knew how to say where I wanted to go!
Finally, what I love most about Tokyo: this, which happened inside one of those immaculate cabs when M asked if she could have my phone for a moment.
Book Club News, ICYMI
Though I’ve been a latecomer to audiobooks, once I discovered them I couldn’t get enough. I borrow them from the public library, but as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes the library steals them back before I can finish. So I'm happy to share I'm partnering with Chirp to launch an audiobook club of biographies and memoirs called “Unfiltered Women.” It’s free to subscribe and Chirp offers great deals. Plus, you obviously get to keep the book to listen to at your leisure.
Full transparency: At this point, I’m choosing not to receive payback for sign-ups, but I do hope to get the benefit of introducing HNTFUYF to Chirp subscribers.
Here’s how it works: Every other month I’ll announce a new book club pick that we’ll listen to together. You’ll have a chance to share your thoughts on the book a few weeks later and hear what other readers thought, too. My first pick is the memoir Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton. I often encourage you to quit objectifying yourself and to instead turn your attention outward, where there’s so much to be appreciated. Hamilton is not only a master of extreme attentiveness, but also a gifted chronicler of what she sees—and she sees...everything. It’s enormous fun to follow her path from spunky kid and lover-of-backyard-barbeques to the founder of what was one of the most beloved restaurants in the world. Delicious reading.
To get started, go to chirpbooks.com/val and press FOLLOW to join my club. (Again, it’s free and there is NO commitment.) There, you can buy Blood, Bones & Butter at a 50% discount with code VAL50.
Val Asks You
Don’t be shy! What’s your most vexing or intractable appearance issue? Send your beauty-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I don’t have a good answer, I’ll find someone who does.
HNTFUYF, a Payola-Free Zone
Readers, a few of you have wondered aloud to me if I get a cut from sales when I mention a product. I do not. I only mention products I’d like to buy myself, and therefore think you might like, too. I share this so you know my recommendations are offered without obligation. The only financial contributions I receive from these posts are from those of you—thank you!—who have generously subscribed. There’s no paywall; all posts and the archive are free.