7 Surprising Habits That Are Drying Out Your Skin

From hot showers to humidity, we’re breaking down some of the lesser known causes of dry skin so that you can enjoy healthier, hydrated skin.
Expert Opinion
Written by Samantha Stone
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7 Surprising Habits That Are Drying Out Your SkinBrad Helmink/Unsplash

Depending on your skin type, dry skin may be seasonal or the result of environmental stressors (think: pollution, sunburn, etc.). For others, a scaly, flaky, or itchy epidermis is chronic. Dryness can occur from head to toe, and it happens when your skin loses water too quickly. It is caused by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

If you are experiencing inflammation, flaking, and sensitivity due to a skin condition like eczema or psoriasis, it is important to consult with a board certified dermatologist to develop a treatment protocol. But, for those dealing with dryness not related to other conditions, certain behaviors may be making matters worse. Below, we shed light on the everyday habits that you may want to kick for healthier, hydrated skin.

1. Taking Hot Showers

We know how relaxing it can be to unwind with a hot shower at the end of a long day, but you’d be doing your skin a favor to limit your exposure to water that is too warm. “Hot showers can dry the skin, as the heat strips the skin of its natural oils,” says Marisa Garshick, MD, a board certified dermatologist in New York City. The result? Skin that feels tight, dry, and irritated. Additionally, the heat can disrupt the natural skin barrier, which is designed to hold moisture in. “When it is impaired, it can lead to increased moisture loss,” she notes. For these reasons, she recommends showering in lukewarm water between 98 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything above 112 degrees Fahrenheit is considered too hot.

2. Wearing Fragrance

As we’ve covered, fragrance can be irritating for those with sensitive skin — and, by fragrance, we’re not just referring to perfumes and colognes. Fragrance is hiding in most of our beauty and skincare products (think: moisturizers, sunscreen, deodorant, and makeup) and can come in synthetic and natural forms. Since dry skin usually equates to a weakened skin barrier, it’s a good idea to avoid any additional irritants while your skin is compromised. Products labeled ‘fragrance-free’ are the way to go, as even ‘unscented’ products can still be sensitizing.

3. Ignoring the Humidity Factor

We can’t control the weather (if only…), but we can adapt to it. As you likely suspected, drier climates can have a drying effect on the skin. “In less humid environments, there is less moisture in the air and the skin doesn’t have as much moisture to hold on to, which can lead to dryness of the skin,” Dr. Garshick shares. And then there is the issue of artificial climate control. “As the temperatures drop and become colder, the increased use of indoor heating can also be drying on the skin,” she cautions.

So, what’s the solution? First, switch up your skincare. “If you are prone to dryness as a result of changing weather or season, it can help to use a thicker moisturizing cream as opposed to a lightweight lotion,” she says. “Thicker moisturizing creams may have the benefit of helping to trap moisture in.” In addition to adding moisture topically, you can also add it to the air. “Using a humidifier can help to restore moisture in the air during the winter months when the indoor heating can cause dryness,” Dr. Garshick adds.

4. Excessively Washing Your Hands

Given the world we’ve lived in for the last 18 months, the idea of advocating for less hand washing or sanitizing sounds insane. But hear us out. “Washing too often can strip the skin of its natural moisture as well as disrupt the natural skin barrier, which can make the skin more susceptible to moisture loss,” Dr. Garshick explains. The same can be said of overwashing the face and body. So, rather than cleansing less, cleanse smarter. “If you find yourself washing frequently — whether it is your body or hands — it is important to always replenish the moisture lost to help support the skin barrier,” she says. That means regularly applying hand cream, body cream, or facial moisturizers (ideally while the skin is still damp) to restore and lock-in hydration.

5. Not Adapting to Your Age

Needless to say, our skin, like our bodies as a whole, have different needs at different phases of life. “As we age, key components of our skin that keep our skin looking and feeling hydrated begin to decrease,” Dr. Garshick says. Those key components include natural reserves of hyaluronic acid (HA) and ceramides. Fortunately, topical skincare can undo some of the damage. She recommends looking for formulas with humectants, like HA and glycerin, ceramides, niacinamide, petrolatum, and squalane “to strengthen the skin barrier and lock in moisture.”

While the depletion of HA, ceramides, and the like is most felt in your forties, fifties, and beyond, everyone and anyone will benefit from keeping hydrated. “Even though the skin may become more dry with age, it is still important to moisturize your skin in your twenties and thirties,” Dr. Garshick says. Younger patients may be able to use lightweight lotions (compared to richer and more occlusive creams or balms), but it really comes down to your skin type and concerns.

6. Drinking Too Much Alcohol & Not Enough Water

Drinking eight glasses of water a day doesn’t guarantee hydrated skin. But the science is pretty simple, if your body is dehydrated, your skin will be, too. If drinking water is a challenge, we’re fans of bottles like brk and HidrateSpark to keep you on track throughout the day. On the other hand, if you’re consuming alcohol (or any diuretic for that matter) then you could also be dehydrating your body — despite filling it with liquids. “With frequent or too much alcohol intake, the skin can become dehydrated, which can leave it looking dull and dry,” Dr. Garshick cautions. This is exacerbated with age. “As we age, our skin may not have as much reserves to account for the dullness and dryness,” she says. “So, as we get older, the impact of alcohol on our skin can become even more noticeable.”

7. Not Using the Right Products… Or Using Them Incorrectly

Beauty products aren’t one-size-fits-all. What works for one person’s skin could easily leave another’s dry and irritated. In fact, some of the most prized ingredients in skincare can actually be drying and/or irritating if not used properly. “Some active ingredients such as retinol, exfoliating acids, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid can be drying on the skin, so it is important to be cautious with use,” Dr. Garshick says. “It is especially important to avoid over-exfoliating, as this can be drying on the skin.” She suggests slowly introducing them into your skincare routine and increasing the frequency of use as tolerated (check out our guide to how to safely add new actives into your regimen).

And, since we’ve spent this entire article advocating for regular moisturizing, it’s important that you understand when and how to topically hydrate. “One of the key tips is to be sure to moisturize immediately after getting out of the shower,” Dr. Garshick emphasizes. “This helps to prevent any moisture loss and lock in any moisture, helping the skin feel and look soft and smooth.”

All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.

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SAMANTHA STONEis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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