As the holiday season nears and we prepare for temps to drop below freezing, most of us are counting down the days until our skin does a total 180 and goes from fab to drab (thanks to the bitter cold temps and dry air). Since there aren't many skin issues that are worse than dealing with dry, flaky, itchy skin on our faces, it's something we'd like to avoid at all costs.
Truth be told, even though most of us have experienced a dry patch or two, at least once in our lives, it can be quite the challenge to get to the bottom of the matter. What on Earth is causing them? How do I get rid of them? And most importantly, how can I prevent them from popping up in the first place? Thankfully, we tapped board-certified dermatologists to help solve the dry skin mystery once and for all. It's time to get down to the bottom of these pesky dry patches and keep them at bay for good. Ahead, get the scoop on dry patches on your face, what they look like, what causes them, and what to do to prevent those patches from creeping back.
What are dry patches?
While dry patches can be categorized as a dozen specific conditions, board- certified dermatologist Flora Kim, MD, FAAD says, in general, dry patches on the face are localized areas where the skin is lacking in moisture. At times, these patches can also be inflamed and irritated, leaving us with no idea what to do to fix the situation (more on that later).
These dry patches can be a number of things like eczema, irritant or contact dermatitis, psoriasis, skin cancer or bacterial or fungal infection, says Caren Campbell, MD, a San Francisco-based board-certified dermatologist. According to Campbell, one way to know if you're dealing with a common winter condition, eczema or another type of dry patch is to consider the longevity and frequency of recurrence of your dry patches. Eczema is a chronic and recurring condition, while dry patches in isolation are likely due to circumstances or temporary triggers, she says.
What do dry patches look like?
Unfortunately, there's no cut and dry answer to this question because not all dry patches look the same. Dr. Kim says dry patches may be pink or red in color and feel crusty, scaly, flaky or itchy. The easiest way to point them out is to feel your skin. If there are small surface areas that are slightly raised or different in texture, like rough sandpaper, that's most likely a dry patch.
What causes dry patches?
There are various causes of dry patches, but one of the most common causes is extreme weather changes like, cough, winter. Other times, dry patches may be symptomatic of a larger skin condition going on. Or, they can be a reflection of your skincare habits (and yes, washing your face too much can actually be detrimental to your skin) or irritating products you might be using. Here are the most likely culprits of those sandpaper-y patches.
1. Cold Weather
Even though the cold-weather season may be full of jolly and holiday cheer, it's also known for sucking our previously hydrated skin dry. And if you live in a cold, windy climate, you know this truth is all too familiar. 'Skin tends to be driest in the winter because of cold temperatures, low humidity, and brisk winds', says Dr. King. 'Plus, dry heat from heaters can dry out our skin even more because more moisture is lost into the air from our skin in these conditions.'
The quickest way to combat cold weather-induced dry skin patches is to use a humidifier. They add moisture into the dry air to help hydrate your skin. They can also help if you're dealing with a cold or the flu.
2. Your Makeup Remover
Taking off your makeup each night before bed is a necessary step in your nightly skincare routine. However, your makeup remover of choice could be causing damage. 'Unfortunately, the same ingredients that take makeup off your skin may disrupt the microbiome [the healthy mix of good and bad bacteria on your skin's surface] and interfere with skin barrier function', says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a dermatologist based in New York City.
'The latest trend in skincare is products that contain probiotic ingredients to support the healthy function of the outer skin layer', says Dr. Zeichner, who is a fan of using them to offset negative effects from your makeup remover. He recommends using a lightweight daily face moisturizer that includes probiotics to re-balance your skin. Try this one from minence Organic Skin Care.
3. Seborrheic Dermatitis
Seborrheic dermatitis is an actual condition that causes you to suffer from dry, scaly skin. It affects more than three million people a year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). People who have it suffer from red, scaly, swollen, and greasy skin. While seborrheic dermatitis is common on your scalp (you can blame it for your dandruff!), it can also affect more than the hair on your head.
'Dry, flaky patches that develop in your eyebrows, around the sides of the nose, and in your smile lines may actually be a form of dandruff', says Dr. Zeichner. It might sound gross, but everyone's skin has living yeast on it. 'When yeast levels become too high, it can lead to inflammation and characteristic flaky patches', he adds.
To stop flakes, make your dandruff shampoo do double duty as a face wash to keep skin problems in check. 'Kamedis Dandruff Therapy shampoo contains zinc pyrithione to lower levels of yeast on the skin, banishing these dry patches', explains Dr. Zeichner. The lightly foaming shampoo is also cruelty-free, a bonus to effectively healing the affected area.
4. Eczema/Atopic Dermatitis
According to Cleveland Clinic, 15 million Americans suffer from eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. The widespread skin issue causes inflammation of the skin that results in a red, scaly, itchy rashes.
'Eczema is a genetic condition where your skin barrier isn't working as well as it should be, leading to loss of hydration, inflammation, and dry patches on the skin', says Dr. Zeichner. When choosing a cleanser, watch out for 'true soaps, which have an alkaline pH and disrupt the outer skin layer.' Instead, opt for a gentle, non-soap body wash that adds hydration to your skin while you take a shower such as a Dove Beauty Bar. 'It's a non-soap cleansing bar that moisturizes, soothes, and evens out skin texture.'
The AAD points out that 14 million Americans are affected by rosacea each year. 'Rosacea is a condition where the skin is extra sensitive and overreactive to the environment', says Dr. Zeichner. Some common symptoms are getting flushed easily and redness on your nose and cheeks, reports the AAD. 'Patients also commonly develop dry patches', says Dr. Zeichner.
Look for moisturizers that protect your skin from the harsh elements of the environment. Dr. Zeichner recommends Aveeno Ultra-Calming Daily Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 for the combination of 'skin-soothing oat extract with anti-inflammatory feverfew, and mineral only UV protection.'
6. Your Diet
While there are certain factors that you can't change, like genetics and the weather. But one you can control that plays a role in how your skin looks? Your diet. 'You need to consume enough healthy fats to contribute to a healthy moisture barrier in the skin', says Dr. King. Up your intake of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, such as salmon, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chicken, and you may see an improved complexion as a result.
7. Hot Water
Campbell says another common cause is over-washing your skin (aka what most of us have been doing in 2020, thanks to COVID-19). And unfortunately, using too hot of water can only make this matter worse. 'Long or frequent baths and showers, particularly in hot water, can also dry out the skin because they remove the protective oils naturally produced by the skin', says Dr. King. 'These oils form a protective barrier to help lock in moisture and protect us from harsh environmental conditions. When the oils are lost, water more easily evaporates from the skin, and it's left dried out.'
To remedy this issue, consider taking a shower with lukewarm water instead hot water. If your skin is turning red, the water is too hot. Dr. King recommends incorporating a gentle body wash, like the Dove Beauty Bar above, into your routine because 'it won't strip the skin of oil and moisture.' And limiting your shower to no more than eight minutes a day.
8. Too Much Exfoliation
When going through your skincare routine, it's important to avoid too much scrubbing on your skin. Over-exfoliating can mess with that protective moisture barrier and cause your hydration to seep out more easily. Skin naturally exfoliates itself, but if you want to add in a scrub or chemical exfoliant, dermatologists agree that once or twice a week is plenty.
9. Products And Medications That Dry You Out
There are a few more common causes, like harsh or drying medications, or skincare products like retinoids, AHAs or BHAs, Kim says.
If dry patches are taking over, it might also need to cut back on products that are potentially drying, including retinols, AHAs, and BHAs. Making the switch to fragrance-free products may also help, says Jeanine B. Downie, MD, a dermatologist in New Jersey. Fragrance can irritate skin and dry it out, which you don't want when you're trying to replenish your complexion.
How can you get rid of dry patches?
Thankfully, these dry patches won't last forever. If you think you know the cause of the patches based on the above, like a new skincare product, remove the product from your routine, stat.
No matter if you can identify the cause or not, the first step to remedying a dry patch is finding a holy grail, rich, luscious moisturizer. Try applying an effective skin barrier repairing moisturizer as soon as possible and in ample quantity, Kim says. She recommends paying attention to your skin. Some patches may only need to be moisturized twice a day and others may require hourly care. Her go-to products for over the counter hydrators are Aquaphor Healing Ointment and CeraVe Moisturizing Cream.
Don't shy away from heavy emollients to hydrate your skin all winter long, either. 'Look for products that combine humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin with emollients like ceramides, petrolatum, and shea butter to lock in the moisture', says Hadley King, MD, a New York-based dermatologist.
Also, consider swapping out your gel-based moisturizers and cleansers for cream- based formulations instead. If you're acne-prone, make sure you use an oil-free moisturizer so you can apply it generously without risking a breakout. Look for labels that say non-comedogenic or non-acnegenic, which mean the product won't clog pores or worsen acne.
Campbell warns that some dry patches, that are more severe, may require a prescription steroid cream. And if you find the area with dry patches is red and itchy, reach for a hydrocortisone cream, which you can find at your local drugstore. Since diagnosing your own dry patches can be quite the challenge, unless you're a board-certified dermatologist yourself, Campbell does recommend booking an appointment with your local dermatologist to get a proper diagnosis. This is the one sure way to get rid of those patches as quickly and easily as possible.