July 30, 2021

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There's nothing like our health

How It Works for Skin Care

4 min read

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There’s hardly a lifestyle magazine out there that hasn’t ALL-CAPS-ed at you about the importance of applying skin care products to damp skin.

They aren’t wrong. You really can maximize the effectiveness of some skin care products by applying them to damp skin.

With the help of an expert, we’ll explain why and tell you which skin care products you should (and shouldn’t) apply to damp skin.

Not sopping wet, if that’s what you’re picturing.

There are some wet skin moisturizers made to put on the skin while you’re still in the shower. But getting the benefits of moisturizer on damp skin can still be achieved with a lot less water on your skin.

According to research from 2016, you can dab your skin lightly after a shower or bath or moisten your dry skin with a wet sponge (aka a sponge bath).

If you’re familiar with K-beauty and skin care, you may have heard of the “three second rule” (as in for skin — not the one that supposedly allows you to eat food off the floor).

You don’t need to count down three Mississippis before you start slathering, but you should apply your product within a minute of washing or wetting your skin. This prevents your skin from getting too dry before you apply your skin care.

We reached out to board certified dermatologist Dr. Dina Strachan to find out why damp skin is the way to go when applying skin care products.

According to Strachan, moisturizer works in a few ways: by providing hydration, sealing in hydration, or both.

“Some skin care products, such as moisturizers, work better when applied to damp skin as part of their function is to seal moisture in,” says Strachan.

“When skin is already damp, it’s hydrated. The moisturizer can then either provide more hydration or just seal it in.”

She adds that more occlusive skin care might seal moisture out if applied to dry skin.

FYI, occlusive substances used in skin care products create a barrier over the skin that keeps moisture from escaping the skin. Some examples of occlusive ingredients in skin care are petroleum jelly, beeswax, and oils or butters, like castor oil and shea butter.

Moisturizers can also contain humectants, like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, which pull water into the skin.

While we’re on the subject of ingredients in moisturizers, many also contain emollients. The job of emollients is to soften and soothe skin. Creams, lotions, and ointments are types of emollients.

Skin care routines can be as simple or elaborate as you like.

We’re talking as simple as washing and applying a single product or following a 10-step routine that involves a mask, two types of cleansers, a toner, eye cream, moisturizer, mists… You get the gist.

Since most of us are short on time — and, let’s face it, cash — here’s a simple step-by-step for applying skin care to damp skin.

For your face

  1. Wash your face using your favorite cleanser.
  2. Use a damp washcloth to gently remove all the cleanser from your face.
  3. If your skin is dripping wet, gently dab it with a towel just enough so that it’s damp, but not dripping.
  4. Apply your serum or moisturizer.

For your body

  1. Pat your skin gently with a towel immediately after getting out of the bath or shower, so it’s not dripping wet.
  2. Rub the moisturizer between your palms.
  3. Apply lightly over your skin along the direction of your hair growth.

If you get distracted (hellooo pimple that was begging to be popped) and your skin gets too dry before you get a chance to moisturize, no worries. You can mist your skin with a bottle of water or face mist or go over it with a damp washcloth.

If you feel like your face is drying out as the day goes on, a light mist can help rehydrate your skin. This works best if you’re makeup-free or if your skin isn’t covered by foundation or face powder.

Less is more when it comes to certain skin products, like medicated creams, which should be applied to dry skin to prevent too much from penetrating.

“Some medications, such as retinoids, are advised to apply to dry skin as there may be more penetration and irritation when applied to damp skin,” Strachan says.

Applying skin care products to damp skin helps your product go further, so you get more beauty bang for your buck. Best of all, you can keep your skin damp with products, like face mists, toners, and essence, or just some good old-fashioned tap water.


Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.

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