Say goodbye to dry skin: 8 tips from a dermatologist

Skin Care

by Jonathan Richey, DO

Mar 26, 2024

Does your skin feel tight, itchy or dry? You're not alone. Dry skin affects many people and not only can cause discomfort, but also impacts your confidence.

The good news is, there are several adjustments you can make to your skincare routine to improve your skin’s hydration. Understanding the cause of your dry skin is key, so let’s take a look at what causes dry skin, as well as how you can get back to feeling your best.

What causes dry skin?

Dry skin is the result of a compromised natural skin barrier, where tiny gaps allow moisture to evaporate, causing dehydration. Addressing this issue is crucial for achieving hydrated, healthy skin and preventing future skin problems.

Although you can experience dry skin all over your body, there are several reasons you may have dry skin on your face specifically:

  • Weather: Dry and cold air, low humidity levels and exposure to harsh weather can strip moisture from the skin, leading to dryness.
  • Skin type: People with naturally dry skin may experience ongoing dryness on their face due to a lack of sufficient oil production.
  • Hot water: Washing your face with hot water can strip away natural oils.
  • Harsh cleansers and soaps: Using harsh cleansers or soaps that disrupt your skin's natural moisture barrier can lead to dryness and irritation.
  • Medications: Some medications, such as retinoids and acne treatments, can have dryness as a side effect.
  • Makeup: Makeup often contains harsh chemicals or alcohols that can dry out your skin and clog your pores.
  • Over exfoliation: Excessive exfoliation can strip away the skin's protective barrier and lead to dryness and redness.

What are “harsh chemicals” for your skin?

When it comes to cosmetic products, including cleansers, moisturizers and makeup, "harsh chemicals" is a term for substances or ingredients that can be irritating or damaging to the skin.

For people with inflamed or dry skin, avoiding irritants is crucial to managing your condition and preventing flare-ups. Here's a list of common harsh chemicals found in cosmetics and skincare products that may exacerbate skin conditions:

  • Alcohol: Often found in toners and cleansers, alcohol can strip the skin of moisture, leading to dryness and irritation.
  • Fragrances (or parfum): Synthetic fragrances are a common cause of allergic reactions and irritation on the skin.
  • Mineral oil: This by-product of petroleum clogs pores and exacerbates acne.
  • Parabens: These are used as preservatives in skincare, and they can cause allergic reactions in some people.
  • Phthalates: Ingredients used to increase the flexibility of plastics in cosmetics, these are linked to hormone disruption and can cause skin irritation.
  • Synthetic dyes: These are often labeled as "FD&C" or "D&C" and are followed by a color and number.

Specific ingredients to avoid in skincare include:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Propylene Glycol and Butylene Glycol
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

It's important to note that not all people will react to these ingredients. But for those with sensitive skin or existing dermatological conditions, I recommend avoiding products with these substances.

Treatment for dry skin: How to protect and fortify your skin barrier

There are several simple treatment options for protecting and fortifying your skin barrier to prevent dry skin:

  1. Water temperature: Use lukewarm water for cleansing, bathing or showering and limit their frequency. Avoid prolonged exposure to very hot or chlorinated water.
  2. Cleansers: Choose non-foaming types enriched with oils and fatty acids. Avoid products that create excessive bubbles and suds.
  3. Exfoliation: Avoid using scrubs on severely dry, scaled or cracked skin. For mild dryness, a gentle scrub can be used sparingly.
  4. Toners: Steer clear of those containing simple alcohols. Products with fatty alcohol formulations are less likely to harm the skin barrier.
  5. Drying: Gently pat skin dry instead of rubbing to avoid friction.
  6. Oils for the body: Apply oil, such as Argan, Jojoba or Safflower oil to damp skin to lock in moisture.
  7. Moisturizers: These are essential for dry skin. Follow any oil application with products featuring ceramides, cholesterol and hydrating fatty acids.
  8. Frequency: Use hydrating products at least twice per day. 

How to help treat your dry skin quickly

For immediate improvement with dry skin, particularly before events, a specific overnight treatment can help you: 

  • Wash your face with a gentle cleanser.
  • Apply hyaluronic acid and glycerin.
  • Cover the affected area with a barrier repair moisturizer.

This should help you turn rough, dry, dull skin into moisturized, fresh skin overnight. It can offer temporary relief but should not replace a consistent daily skincare routine designed for dry skin.

Lifestyle changes for dry skin

If you’re experiencing any dry skin, there are several easy steps you can take to alleviate any discomfort.

  • Select mild, fragrance-free laundry detergents and avoid ones with potential irritants.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle with adequate sleep, regular exercise and stress management to support skin barrier health.
  • Consider using a humidifier in dry environments.

Dry skin vs. eczema

While both dry skin and eczema involve skin dryness and discomfort, eczema is an inflammatory condition whereas dry skin is often caused by environmental factors, such as cold or dry weather, low humidity, hot water or harsh skincare products.

Eczema is a chronic dysfunction of the skin barrier, which means that you are particularly sensitive to irritants and allergens. Its symptoms of dry skin and redness commonly appear on specific areas of the body, such as the face, neck, elbows, knees and behind the knees.

If you're living with dry skin or eczema, booking an appointment with a dermatologist can provide an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan, so you can feel confident in your skin every day.

About the Author

Jonathan D. Richey, DO, FAAD, FOCOD, MHA, is a dermatologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - McKinney.

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