Could moisturizing your skin actually prevent disease?

We all know that moisturizers are good for the skin. They hydrate and nourish when you’re dry, and make tight skin soft and comfortable again. Depending on the formulation, they can smooth fine lines and channel youth, too.

But according to a preliminary research, the benefits of using moisturizer might not be merely skin deep. A Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology paper suggests that your beauty potions may have a part in helping with inflammatory diseases too, such as heart disease and diabetes. In this small study,  scientists at the University of California, San Francisco examined 33 subjects, age 58 to 95, and measured levels of three types of cytokines (inflammatory messengers in the bloodstream) associated with age-related inflammatory disease. Then the subjects used a moisturizer for 30 days, after which cytokines were measured again. Subjects who used a moisturizer ended up with lower levels of cytokines in the bloodstream compared to the control group.

The result was not entirely surprising. When skin gets dry and cracked, the body releases cytokines, which efficiently help repair the damage. But in older skin, which is more prone to dryness and cracking, the fix-it operation doesn’t work quite as well. This causes the body to keep releasing cytokines into the bloodstream--resulting in an excessive amount that, in turn, travels to different parts of the body and causes inflammation.

More research is needed to test the theory. After all, the study is, as we mentioned, small and short-term; and the researchers, who are also consultants to a Korean beauty company, aren’t exactly unbiased. But the concept is an interesting and hopefully helpful one. It may someday help explain why people with psoriasis and dermatitis tend to have an increased risk for heart disease, and how our skin--the largest organ of the body--may play a more active role in our overall health than we think.

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