Dry skin is a common ailment for many people, and both internal and external factors can lead to the epidermis feeling dehydrated. Dryness can occur from head to toe — and an increase in hand washing and hand sanitizer usage during the COVID-19 pandemic means that many of us are dealing with hands that are drier than usual, too. When you combine that with the onset of winter (and its dry winds outside and artificial heat inside), it’s a recipe for parched skin.
So, what’s the best way to boost the skin’s hydration levels? In order to get the best dry skin tips that you can use this winter and beyond, we sought the advice of three skincare experts.
What Causes Dry Skin?
When your skin loses water too quickly, it becomes dry. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), everyday things such as soaps, hot showers, and arid climates can cause dry skin. Age, some medications, and certain medical conditions can also lead to moisture loss.
In order to determine if your dry skin is caused by internal or external factors, your dermatologist will examine the condition of the skin for a few key indicators. “While both present with redness, inflammation, flaking and sensitivity, dry skin that is being caused by external elements will present as chapped or cracked and the skin texture would be rougher,” explains Dendy Engelman, MD, a board certified dermatologist in New York City.
If your dermatologist suspects a skin condition like psoriasis or eczema could be the culprit, the diagnosis may require a delicate biopsy in order to look at the skin microscopically. Treatment protocols will also be different.
How to Treat Dry Skin
Treatment for dry skin will generally be a two-step process that includes both lifestyle and product changes. On the lifestyle front, NYC-based board certified dermatologist Amanda Doyle, MD, recommends her patients take shorter, lukewarm showers and moisturize immediately after getting out. “Gentle skincare, staying hydrated, and getting a humidifier in the winter can also be particularly helpful for combating dry skin,” she adds. You should also make sure you’re staying hydrated and reducing alcohol consumption, which can cause dehydration in general.
Product wise, Dr. Engelman says patients should look for three powerful moisturizing agents:
“Humectants are ingredients that help the skin retain moisture, while emollients include ingredients like shea butter and cocoa butter that help soften the skin,” she explains. “Occlusives are designed to prevent water loss. In medicine we use it in wound dressings to provide optimal habitat for healing and prevent bacterial contamination.” Depending on the state of your skin and the cause of the dryness, your dermatologist may recommend a prescription-strength treatment.
Treating Dry Skin on the Face
The skin on the face is more delicate than the rest of your body. Restoring the skin’s natural barrier function, which, when compromised, can result in dryness is key. But fortifying it goes beyond just applying a richer moisturizer, says celebrity aesthetician Renée Rouleau. Below is her five-step plan for rehydrating the complexion:
- Use a Humidifier: When the air is dry, it draws moisture from wherever it can — including the skin. Invest in a humidifier (we’re fans of Canopy) to add moisture back into your space.
- Apply Skincare ASAP: Once you’ve washed your face or gotten out of the shower, Rouleau says you have a 60-second window before water starts to evaporate from your skin. Try to apply your toner, serum, and moisturizer ASAP to minimize dehydration.
- Tone It Up: Toners and essences (alcohol free, of course) are important steps in your winter skincare routine, as they can soothe redness and restore hydration. Our pick? The Renée Rouleau Moisture Infusion Toner.
- Seal It In: Apply a few drops of face oil — like Rouleau’s Pro Remedy Oil — on top of your moisturizer to seal it in. Its high molecular structure acts as a barrier to trap moisture.
- Exfoliate Gently: Dry skin can appear rough and flaky, and a gentle exfoliator can help improve texture. Using an acid-based serum (try Renée Rouleau Ultra Gentle Smoothing Serum) two to three nights a week can dissolve dry surface cells without irritation.
Treating Dry Hands
At this point, you know you should be washing your hands for at least 20 seconds after you touch just about anything. But how can you ward off the dry, chapped skin that inevitably accompanies fastidious hygiene? Rouleau says diligence is key. “It may seem obvious, but it really is so important to keep your hands healthy by applying moisturizer after each and every hand washing,” she shares.
The same logic that has you slapping on skincare as quickly as possible after cleansing your face, applies to the hands as well. “When we’re washing our hands as often as once every hour, it’s easy to get lazy about moisturizer,” Rouleau says. “But leaving them bare will lead to water evaporating from the skin, which causes the tightness and dryness that can eventually lead to cracking — not to mention redness and irritation.” If you’re spending most of your time at home, keep a hand cream next to the sink. If you're out and about, carry a travel-size lotion (in addition to your hand sanitizer) for easy application.
Rouleau also recommends rethinking your bedtime routine. “At night, apply a thick ointment or salve while you sleep,” she says. If you have cracked skin on your knuckles, start by applying a medicated formula like Neosporin. Oh, and Rouleau has one last tip for any skincare that might not have worked out for your face. “If you have a face cream that didn’t work out because it was too heavy or broke you out, don’t throw it away,” she insists. “Try using it on your hands, instead.”
How to Prevent Dry Skin
Even if you don’t normally experience dry skin, there’s always a chance for your epidermis to become dehydrated after using certain skin and personal care products or being out in the elements, so prevention is key:
If you’re going outside…
Planning to hit the ski slopes or spend time out in the cold? Dr. Doyle recommends using an intensive moisturizer — like Vaseline Clinical Care Extremely Dry Skin Rescue — before and after going outside to prime and protect the skin. And don’t forget to accessorize. Dr. Engelman suggests utilizing scarfs, gloves, and mittens as an extra layer of protection against the elements.
If you're updating your skincare routine…
All of our experts encourage getting a humidifier for your home and keeping moisturizing products (for the face, hands, and body) within reach. But it’s not just about adding steps to your routine. You can help prevent dry skin by avoiding products with drying ingredients (think: sulfates and solvent alcohols). If you’re maskne has been flaring up, remember that acne products can be drying, so it’s important to tweak your regime to prevent additional irritation. Borage oil, evening primrose oil, squalane, and sweet almond oil are all gentle alternatives depending on your skin type. Consult with your dermatologist to determine the best skincare regimen for your concerns.
Whether it’s the result of the changing seasons, washing your hands, or aggressive skincare, treating dry skin on the body, hands, and face requires both lifestyle changes (i.e. keep skin shielded from the elements and opt for lukewarm water) and product updates (look for humectants, emollients, and occlusives). If you’re looking to stop dryness before it starts, adding a humidifier and moisturizing ingredients to your arsenal may do the trick — but know that consistency is key for best results.
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