To Treat Dry or Dehydrated Skin, Start by Understanding TEWL
Updated July 16, 2018
What is Transepidermal Water Loss?
TEWL occurs when the outermost layer of our skin, the epidermis, loses water to the surrounding air through evaporation. In fact, each day, the skin loses approximately one pint of water through TEWL. In a fairly humid environment, water evaporation from the skin is slow, and the body can readily replenish the water lost to the air. However, when water evaporates faster than the body can replace it, the skin becomes dehydrated, which can lead to irritated, rough and/or itchy skin that can crack and cause discomfort. Dry skin also tends to appear more aged, as fine lines and wrinkles are accentuated. As the skin begins to show signs of dryness, TEWL accelerates even further because the skin's barrier function is further limited.
Key Takeaway: Trans-epidermal water loss is the loss of water from the skin to the environment. TEWL is heightened due to environmental factors (e.g. low humidity and/or low temperatures - which is why dry skin is so prevalent in the winter) and when the integrity of the skin is compromised (e.g. sunburn, skin conditions, injury, etc.).
How Do You Minimize TEWL?
Optimizing the skin’s moisture level is vital to skin health and an important element in ensuring a youthful appearance. To achieve proper skin hydration and treat dry skin, internal and external factors must be considered.
We all know that meeting our water intake goals each day is beneficial to the body. Water aids in digestion, regulation of body temperature, transportation of nutrients and much more. And while a jury has long been out regarding its ability to directly benefit the skin, studies like this one demonstrate that regular consumption of water does indeed lead to improvement in skin hydration. That’s the internal side of the equation.
Ensuring that our skin is hydrated, however, doesn’t prevent TEWL. If anything, the more water content in the skin, the greater the opportunity for TEWL to occur. Rather, from an external perspective, we must focus on slowing the rate of TEWL. To do that, we look to moisturizers and, more specifically, moisturizers that contain three different types of ingredients:
Among the effective humectants used in moisturizers are propylene glycol, hyaluronic acid and sorbitol - substances that naturally attract water. When used in humid conditions, humectants pull water from the environment to the skin. In dry environments, humectants draw moisture from the deeper layer of skin (the dermis) to the outermost layer (the epidermis). However, all of the extra moisturize that humectants bring to the epidermis could easily evaporate. This is where occlusives come in.
Common occlusives include petrolatum, caprylic/capric triglyceride and beeswax. These substances are hydrophobic (repel water) and, as such, create a barrier through which water cannot pass. By applying a moisturizer with quality occlusives to the skin, the skin retains its water content. (With certain occlusives on the skin, the rate of TEWL can decrease by up to 98%!)
Emollients include isopropyl palmitate, dimethicone and jojoba seed oil. These substances help keep the skin smooth, flexible and lubricated. Emollient constituents found naturally in the skin’s oils, such as lipids and fatty acids, play important roles in the skin’s architecture. In moisturizers, they improve the feel and comfort of the skin while greatly reducing TEWL.
Key Takeaway: Humectants, occlusives and emollients are important ingredients found in quality moisturizers. Together, they work to minimize and prevent trans-epidermal water loss while soothing the skin. According to studies, TEWL can be further reduced by using skin care products that feature a base of aloe vera, instead of water, like those from Lexli.
Additional Tips to Slow Transepidermal Water Loss:
TEWL is accelerated when the skin’s barrier function is disrupted. Therefore, the amount of water that comes into contact with the skin should be limited . Water dilutes and washes away skin oils that act as natural occlusives to keep water in the epidermis. High water temperature can also increase TEWL, as it opens the skin’s pores, allowing more moisture to evaporate. Shorter, cooler showers and baths are recommended for optimal skin health.
Avoid strong soaps. Heavy-duty soaps and cleansers with high pH levels can rapidly diminish the skin's supply of natural oils leaving moisture in the epidermis free to evaporate. Rather, turn to gentle cleansers or glycerin bars.
In dry climates or during dry seasons, use a humidifier in your home or office . TEWL is slower in humid environments.
Reapply lotions and moisturizers regularly to ensure that skin stays protected. This is especially important after washing hands or cleansing the face or body.
When it comes to skin care products, ingredients are everything. Like all our products, Lexli moisturizers only use ingredients of the highest quality, including a concentrated base of aloe vera - one of nature’s most powerful humectants. In terms of facial moisturizers:
- Those with normal-to-dry skin benefit from Lexli Night Moisturizer, which features a high concentration of humectants, occlusives and emollients. Despite the name, this product can be used morning and evening by those with dehydrated or dry skin.
- Those with normal- to slightly-dry skin, as well as those living in humid climates, will appreciate Lexli's selection of lightweight daytime moisturizers and moisturizing serums, which slow TEWL and leave skin feeling comfortable, not greasy.
- For those whose skin is oily we recommend Daily Moisturizer for Oily Skin, which minimizes TEWL while mattifying the skin.
Finally, to treat dry skin on face and body, we recommend Lexli Hand & Body Lotion.
Interested in learning more? Download your free copy of Dr. Abdullah's ebook!
If your skin had a user's manual, this would be it! Get the ebook written by Lexli founder, Dr. Ahmed Abdullah.