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How to Take Care of Dry Skin, According to a Dermatologist

Does the harsh winter air wreak havoc on your face? Here's how to care for that dry, cracked skin.

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Just because your skin sometimes gets dry doesn’t mean you have textbook dry skin. It could be a temporary condition attributed to the cold, parched winter air, or even bodily dehydration. People who actually have dry skin are dealing with it on a daily basis: Their glands produce less oil, so they experience the same dry symptoms as the rest of us, but under less exceptional circumstances.

If you notice that others are glossy at the forehead and cheeks while you rarely shine at all — and that your skin feels rough and sometimes looks tired — then you probably have genetically dry skin, and need to adjust (or build) your skincare regimen accordingly.

Below, we’ve outlined how to do exactly that, with additional advice from board-certified dermatologist Jennifer S. Kitchin of Harrison, NY.

How to Know if You Have Dry Skin

Dr. Kitchin says that dry skin is characterized by dullness, flaking, itching, cracking and oftentimes progressed signs of aging, like wrinkles and fine lines. It’s caused by a lack of moisture in the upper layer of the skin, be it from a hot shower or a lack of oil production at a deeper level.

Issues Caused by Dry Skin

Dry skin looks duller than more hydrated skin types (normal, oily and combination). That’s because there’s less oil in the corneous layer of the skin — the outermost of the layers, which locks on moisture. Accordingly, dry skin tends to be itchier, gets irritated more easily and is often more sensitive to everyday skincare products and razor blades. Kitchin says dry skin also makes you more vulnerable to infections, too, since this defensive moisture barrier is compromised — and it can also show signs of aging faster.

“All people are susceptible to developing dry skin, and it is typically dependent on the environment, temperature, humidity levels, length of showers and baths, and use (or no use) of protective moisturizers,” Kitchin says. “There are some specific skin conditions that can lead to the development of dry itchy patches on the skin, which are not considered to be ‘dry skin.'” This includes psoriasis and eczema. If you aren’t certain about your own condition and how to improve, Kitchin recommends seeing a board-certified dermatologist.

The Best Morning Routine for Dry Skin

  1. Wash Your Face
  2. Apply Moisturizer

    Because dry skin is more sensitive than other types, it’s best to keep your regimen simple. Kitchin tells her dry skinned patients to use gentle, plain, unscented cleansers and moisturizers.

    For cleansers, you should opt for something as simple as Dove. It hydrates while it cleanses, and won’t dry out the skin like many harsher options. “These types of products can help protect your skin barrier and limit the loss of your natural skin oils while showering,” she says. “Most soaps contain surfactants which, while great at cleansing our skin, also bind to our vital skin oils, thus removing them from the skin. That ‘squeaky­ clean’ feeling after you use your favorite soap is a sign that too many oils have been removed from your skin.”

    Wash and moisturize your face gently, and never shower for longer than five minutes.

    As for moisturizers, Kitchin recommends something thick and gentle. They are extra dense and defensive, and they lack ingredients that might irritate your skin. “Ingredients to look for include mineral oil, shea butter, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, glycerine and lanolin,” Kitchin says. “Although many people prefer a lighter lotion, they typically do not moisturize as effectively as a thicker cream. If you insist on using a lighter lotion, then that can be your daytime go-­to product, and you can use the thicker cream at bedtime.”

    She adds that it is important to limit your showers to 3 to 5 minutes maximum, and to use nothing higher than luke­warm water. “Pat dry, to prevent wiping away residual skin oils and moisture, and then apply your apply your moisturizer within 3 to 5 minutes of showering,” she says. And don’t be sparse with it: “The most important takeaway message is to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.”

    The Best Nighttime Routine for Dry Skin

    1. Wash Your Face
    2. Apply a Hydrating Serum
    3. Apply a Top Moisturizer
    4. Optional: Add an Overnight Mask

      All the same rules apply — if you shower at night, limit it to 3 to 5 minutes, keep the water warm but not hot and use gentle cleansers on face and body. Or just do the same while cleansing your face over the sink. Then hydrate within 3 to 5 minutes. You can layer a nourishing serum under the moisturizer if you want to hydrate all the layers of your skin, but it’s that outermost layer that needs the most love, and a thick moisturizer is essential while you sleep, since it works with your body’s restorative cycle to help you look rested and youthful in the morning. It will also work harder to prevent dryness while you sleep, and will better defend from outside bacteria and germs.

      Moisturizing at night gives your face an uninterrupted — if you're lucky — eight hours to absorb and regenerate.

      Things to Avoid if You Have Dry Skin

      “People with dry skin should avoid products that are rich in perfumes, dyes and preservatives,” Kitchin says. “Although all of those sweet smelling lotions are fun to use, they’re not ideal for effective moisturizing, and they can even lead to irritation, which will worsen your already dry skin.”

      Dry Skin-Safe Products to Use

      Caldera + Lab The Base Layer

      The Base Layer

      Caldera + Lab Caldera + Lab

      Caldera + Lab packages all of its ingredient-driven, oftentimes wild-harvested, formulas into a suite they called The Regimen. In it, there's a moisturizer called The Base Layer, a balancing cleanser called The Clean Slate and a multifunctional serum called The Good.

      This pre-made ensemble makes it easier for beginners and free agents alike to find a single brand they can buy the bare essentials from, with the promise that they won't clash or counteract each other.

      CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser

      Hydrating Facial Cleanser

      CeraVe Amazon

      A drugstore staple, you’ve probably seen CeraVe in more friends’ bathrooms than any other cleanser. And for good reason: Most dermatologists will endorse their products — for dry skin and otherwise — since so much thought goes into each formula. As for this dry-and-normal skin blend, ceramides seep into the skin to preserve moisture, and hyaluronic acid helps surface natural moisture from deeper layers of the skin. It’s so effective at cleansing sensitive skin without dehydrating or irritating it, that the National Eczema Association endorses it.

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