Author: Fayne Frey,MD, Board Certified Dermatologist
Let’s pretend you’re stuck on a desert island. Your personal genie will grant you only one skincare product. What do you wish for?
The answer is SUNSCREEN.
Sunscreen is undeniably the single most effective skincare product for preventing the changes in skin associated with aging, dark spots, fine wrinkling, blood vessel formation, and multiple types of scaly growths. Besides seeking shade, wearing protective outerwear and avoiding direct sun exposure, the dermatologic community considers daily sunscreen application the single best preventative of skin cancer. Which sunscreen is best? Any broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher that is used daily, liberally and reapplied often is the best one.
Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have a magic genie that agrees to grant you a second skincare product…what do you wish for then?
100% petroleum jelly is the best response, also known as petrolatum.
Here’s why. Petroleum jelly is an effective moisturizer used to remedy a wide variety of skin conditions. This product reduces water loss from the skin surface into the environment by 98%, and allergic reactions are extremely rare. Petroleum jelly effectively soothes dry cracked skin on problematic areas like elbows, knees, heels, lips, and nose. Other uses include using petrolatum on earring posts to help earring insertion, on cheeks to prevent wind burn, and around the cuticles to improve nail health. Athletes use petroleum jelly to prevent inflammation or chafing in areas where clothing rubs against the skin during long distance runs. And let’s not forget how beneficial petroleum jelly is for treating diaper rash. I could go on, but I won’t. Let’s just say I’m a fan. Cosmetic grade petroleum jelly is available in local drugstores and pharmacies at an extremely affordable price and I strongly believe a supply should be kept in everyone’s bathroom vanity.
A word to skeptics who believe using this product is dangerous, please know the FDA states no evidence exists to support that refined petrolatum is unsafe. It’s no secret petrolatum is a derivative of petroleum and that while the unrefined forms contain impurities that might be carcinogenic, refined white petroleum jelly (trade name Vaseline) is free from these chemicals. The only disadvantage of this product, in my opinion, is that it can feel very sticky when applied to large surface areas of the body.
And if you can convince your genie to grant you a third product?
Pick a well-formulated moisturizer.
I can understand you might want to avoid the stickiness of petroleum jelly when moisturizing large portions of your body. In that case, a dermatologist recommended well-formulated moisturizer is a good product to keep on hand. Preferably go fragrance-free, as fragrances are a common allergen in moisturizers. Apply twice daily to increase for well-hydrated skin to establish a barrier to the outside environment, preventing mold, fungus, viruses and allergens from penetrating your body. You’ll may also find that healthy, well moisturized skin optimizes the suppleness and appearance of your skin. Your moisturizer does not have to be expensive to be effective. Many of those sold inexpensively at your local drugstore or supermarket are effective and contain the same ingredients as the costly brands.
If you have a generous and gracious genie, and you’ve been on your best behavior, you can try to get the courage up to ask for one last personal care product. What should you ask for?
Ask for a soap free face & body cleanser.
Even the mildest of cleansers cannot distinguish the unwanted dirt and oil from the useful proteins and lipids your skin needs to stay hydrated. Cleansers therefore often cause dry skin and flaking. Soap free cleansers have a pH that is better suited to protect the skin. Unless you are a teenager with oily skin or acne, where studies have clearly shown benefit to facial cleansing twice daily, using soap is truly optional.
Did you know a daily shower is a cultural norm in the U.S. and considered a true luxury elsewhere? In parts of the world where running water is not easily accessed, showers are rarely, if ever, taken. These populations do not have a higher incidence of skin infections compared to western cultures. Some research demonstrate these cultures actually have a healthier more diverse bacterial skin population than Western cultures. Yes, the body smells different when a cleanser is not used – but this too is a cultural norm.
That being said, why ask for a cleanser at all? The truth is, the discovery and use of cleansers has made a bigger impact on world health than any single ingredient or drug. Basic hand washing is paramount to prevent bacterial illness. Critical times to wash your hands include before eating or handling food, and after using the toilet, changing a baby’s diaper, sneezing, coughing, or being in contact with pets and animals. But since it’s just you and your genie on the desert island, and no one is around to offend if you have an odor, ask for the cleanser, but request a soap-free version.
There you have it. The four most essential skincare products are listed below in order of importance:
- Petroleum jelly
- Soap-free face and body wash
Do you currently have skincare products on your shelf that you probably don’t need?
Fayne Frey, M.D.,specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. She is a nationally recognized expert in the effectiveness and formulation of over-the-counter skincare products, and, as a speaker, has captivated audiences with her wry observations regarding the skincare industry. She has consulted for numerous media outlets, including NBC, USA Today, and, the Huffington Post, and has shared her expertise on both cable and major TV outlets. Dr. Frey is the Founder of FryFace.com, an educational skincare information and product selection service website that clarifies and simplifies the overwhelming choice of effective, safe and affordable products encountered in the skincare aisles. Dr. Frey is a fellow of both the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.