We all want healthy, hydrated skin, but the reality is that skin can become dry, flaky, and rough. Why? The outer layers of your skin are put together in a type of brick-and-mortar system. Healthy skin cells are stacked with oils and other substances that keep skin moist. When those substances are lost, skin cells can crumble away, which leads to a dry dermis.
Itching is the No. 1 symptom of dry skin, says Angela Lamb, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Dry skin tends to be flaky, red, and irritated. Your skin may also look dull or ashy (if you have dark skin), which can progress to skin being scaly or cracked. In the worst-case scenario, skin can become thick and leathery.
What Causes Dry Skin?
Dry skin often results when the skin loses water or oil, particularly in climates with low humidity, or during winter months when low humidity and indoor heat affect the natural balance of healthy skin. â€œYour skin is the primary barrier to the environment and prevents water from evaporating off the surface,â€ Dr. Lamb says. When humidity is low, more moisture is lost from the skinâ€™s surface and it dries out.
On top of that, certain medical conditions can make you more prone to developing dry skin, including:
How to Go From Dry Skin to Healthy Skin
The main step you can take to heal dry skin: Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Apply moisturizer to your body and face at least once a day, when your skin is still damp from the shower, recommends Alisha Plotner, MD, a dermatologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. In the summer, a thinner lotion will do the job, but in the winter when skin becomes drier, a thicker cream or ointment is a better choice, she says.
Good ingredients to look for in a moisturizer are lactic acid, glycerin, petrolatum, and hyaluronic acid, says Nazanin Saedi, MD, a dermatologist, director of Jefferson Laser Surgery and Cosmetic Dermatology Center, and an assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia. Persistently dry areas can also benefit from petroleum jelly, she says.
If over-the-counter moisturizers arenâ€™t enough for your skin, your doctor may prescribe an ointment that contains ceramides, or proteins that help rebuild the skin barrier, Lamb says. Prescription-strength products are especially helpful for eczema and other severe skin conditions. People who have eczema may also get relief from applying cold compresses on itchy skin. Over-the-counter or prescription corticosteroid creams may also be needed to heal the skin barrier and calm inflammation, Dr. Saedi says, but prolonged use can thin your skin, so carefully follow your doctorâ€™s directions about using them. Your doctor may also prescribe oral corticosteroids, but theyâ€™re not intended for long-term use.
Another over-the-counter or prescription option is a barrier cream. Barrier creams penetrate a little deeper than standard moisturizers. â€œAnyone prone to dryness with repeated exposures to detergents, soaps, water, and other irritants would benefit from a barrier cream,â€ Dr. Plotner says.
For those with keratosis pilaris, moisturizing with creams that have urea or lactic acid helps the itch, but doesnâ€™t necessarily smooth the skin. However, mild chemical peels or topical retinoids may soften the skin.
Other dry skin remedies include:
- Taking short, warm (instead of hot) showers
- Using moisturizing soaps
- Placing a humidifier in your home to add moisture to the air
Although it hasnâ€™t been studied, some doctors believe that polyunsaturated fats, found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel and soybean and safflower oil, can help keep the skin healthy, Lamb says.
With the right tender, loving care â€” and a good moisturizer â€” you can restore a healthy luster to dry skin.
5 Common Hygiene Myths You Shouldnâ€™t Believe
Do you need to shower every day? Wash your hands with scalding-hot water? Here's the dirt, according to health experts.
Which Collagen Sources Should You Try?
From powders and gummies to foods and topicals, hereâ€™s a list of collagen sources ranked from best to worst.
Potentially Toxic Chemicals Called PFAS Are Common in Cosmetics, Study Finds
Lab tests suggest that more than half of cosmetics sold in the United States and Canada may contain high levels of the chemical. U.S. legislators recently...
6 Places You're Missing When You Apply Sunscreen
No matter how thorough your SPF routine, these are the spots experts say are often overlooked.
Ask a Castle Connolly Top Doctor: How Aging and Gravity Affect Your Skin
A renowned plastic surgeon, recognized as a Castle Connolly Top Doctor, discusses the factors that affect our skinâ€™s appearance, and how patients can ...
California Bans 24 Toxic Chemicals From Personal-Care Products: What to Know
A bellwether state for federal efforts, California just became the first in the nation to ban certain chemicals from cosmetics and personal-care ingredients...
What Are the Benefits of Fish Oil for Your Hair?
Eating more whole fish with omega-3 fatty acids may help strengthen your tresses, but thereâ€™s limited evidence that fish oil pills will do the same.