April 28, 2021
Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered, “Why is my skin so dry?” Well, we just may have the answer for you. Our guide to dry skin can help you figure out what dry skin is and if you have it, teach you the common causes of dry skin and even show you how to get rid of dry skin at home.
The best part? We can deliver the product recommendations in this guide and other skin care favorites to your door in just 30 minutes! So if you’re desperate for some dry-skin relief or just want to be able to turn on your heater in the winter without your skin immediately protesting, read on.
What Is Dry Skin?
Dry skin is skin that is lacking oil. Symptoms include skin that is flaky, rough, scaly, tight, itchy, red, ashy (gray) and even painful. Skin may crack and bleed if it’s extremely dry.
Dry skin commonly appears on faces, hands, arms, elbows, legs and knees. It affects people of all ages living in all types of environments, though it’s especially common in individuals middle-aged and older.
What Causes Dry Skin?
Dry skin has a variety of causes, including:
Dry skin is a common skin type, meaning, your skin is just naturally on the dry side. It usually has fewer oil-producing glands than other skin types, which include oily skin, combination skin and normal skin.
Oftentimes, the older you get, the drier your skin gets. With age, your skin stops producing as much oil. Barrier function is often weakened, allowing for more moisture loss. Your skin becomes less elastic, too, resulting in dryness and more wrinkles.
Dry skin is also caused by a variety of external factors, including:
- Sun and UV exposure—typically the biggest culprit, especially for older individuals
- The overuse of exfoliating products, such as scrubs, facial acids and acne products
- Retinoids, but usually only for the first few weeks or months of introducing them
Finally, there are medical conditions known to cause dry skin—formally known as xerosis cutis. These include:
- Psoriasis: A chronic skin disease that causes dry, red, itchy and scaly patches.
- Eczema: A group of conditions that result in skin that’s itchy, red, inflamed and/or rashy. Eczema affects more than 31 million Americans, according to the National Eczema Association.
- Atopic dermatitis: The most common type of eczema.
- Ichthyosis: Another group of skin disorders resulting in skin that has a thick, dry “fish-scale” appearance.
Talk to your doctor or consult a dermatologist if you suspect your dry skin is caused by one of these skin conditions.
Still not positive if you have dry skin? Our Find the Best Nighttime Skin Care Routine for Your Skin article explains how to find your skin type.
Dry Skin vs. Dehydrated Skin
Do you have dry skin? Or do you have dehydrated skin? And what’s the difference? Dehydrated skin is often confused with dry skin because it can be flaky and feel tight. The primary difference between the two is that dry skin is lacking oil, whereas dehydrated skin is lacking water.
So how do you know if your skin is lacking oil or water? An easy way to tell your skin is lacking water is if it is oily, but also flaky and tight. As we pointed out in our Beginner’s Guide to Skin Care for Men, your skin might even be producing excess oil because it’s not hydrated enough and your glands are working overtime to compensate.
You can also tell if your skin is lacking water if you pinch it and it wrinkles easily, indicating that your skin cells may be craving water. Other signs include more exaggerated wrinkles and dark circles than normal.
What Causes Dehydrated Skin?
Dehydration is often caused by things that sap moisture away from your skin, including:
- Wind, cold and low humidity
- Hot water and harsh soaps
- Excessive hand washing or sanitizing
- Indoor heating systems—they’re notorious for bombarding skin with hot, dry air
With all of this said, dehydrated skin is often still conflated with dry skin, both in the beauty industry and in the general world. Luckily, tips on how to get rid of dry skin work for dehydrated skin, too, as the solution for both involves making sure skin has an optimal combination of oil and water.
How to Get Rid of Dry Skin
There are a few simple yet effective things you can do to fix dry skin yourself:
Choose a Moisturizer with Humectants, Emollients and Occlusives
The best thing you can do to get rid of dry skin is to use the right moisturizer. Our list of the best moisturizers for dry skin has specific product recommendations, but in general, you should look for a moisturizer that has three key components: humectants, emollients and occlusives.
Humectants (such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin) pull water into your skin and hold it there. Emollients (such as plant oils and squalane) soften and smooth your skin while adding a glow. And occlusives (such as petrolatum and shea butter) trap moisture in your skin by forming a barrier.
Figuring out if your moisturizer has these three components can be challenging, but you don’t need to be able to read an ingredients label to do so. Instead, you can use an online ingredients database like INCIDecoder to figure out what’s included in any given moisturizer.
Other beneficial ingredients to look for in a moisturizer include ceramides, urea, dimethicone and mineral oil.
Exfoliate Strategically With Lactic Acid
Dry skin can benefit from gentle exfoliation to remove dead, flaky skin cells. Lactic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid, is brilliant for dry skin, as it lightly exfoliates while simultaneously helping keep skin moisturized. In fact, lactic acid is one of the skin’s natural moisturizing factors (NMFs)—substances that naturally occur in the skin’s uppermost layers to help keep it supple and hydrated.
However, it’s important to apply your lactic acid no more than once a day or even every other day, as too much can further dry out skin. And if you’re going to use acids, you’ll need to wear sunscreen every day.
Wear a Sheet Mask Once a Week
Sheet masks are amazing at providing skin with an instant moisture bomb. Wear one for 20 minutes once a week to help saturate your skin with hydrating serums. We especially like the St. Ives Soothing Oatmeal Sheet Mask for dry skin, as oatmeal can help soothe irritation.
Wear Vaseline to Bed
You can also try the K-beauty trend of “slugging,” where you coat your face in Vaseline and go to bed. Petroleum jelly is a great occlusive, so it locks moisture into the skin, preventing transepidermal water loss.
If you want to try slugging, wash your face and apply your regular moisturizer, then add Vaseline on top. You shouldn’t break out, as petrolatum is non-comedogenic—but your skin might feel very greasy. Sleeping on an old pillowcase can help protect your bedding.
Skip the Hot Shower
OK, we know this is not the most popular advice, but bathing in hot water can really dry out your skin. If you feel like you must have a hot shower, try cutting down your shower time to 10 minutes or less. Or, simply shower every other day. A package of baby wipes and some dry shampoo can help you feel fresh on non-shower days.
Moisturize Immediately After You Shower
The best time to apply body lotions is right after showering, while your skin is still damp. This helps physically trap the light layer of water into your skin.
Avoid Harsh Soaps and Strong Detergents
You should avoid harsh soaps and laundry detergents, which can both irritate and dry out your skin. Instead, opt for a gentle body wash, body bar or hand soap. And look for perfume-free laundry detergents, such as the hypoallergenic Tide Free and Gentle Liquid Laundry Detergent, which is good for sensitive skin and recognized by both the National Eczema Association and the National Psoriasis Foundation.
Another great way to protect yourself from harsh soaps (and hot water) is to wear a pair of rubber gloves while washing the dishes.
Get a Humidifier
Using a humidifier is an easy way to help get some moisture back into your skin. All you have to do is plop one next to your bed and let it run while you sleep.
For even more tips on treating dry skin, including Saran Wrapping your cracking hands, check out 29 Beauty Tips That Will Change Your Life.
How to Get Moisturized, Glowing Skin in 24 Hours
Say it’s the night before a special event and you have just 24 hours to solve all your dry skin problems and get a glow that a firefly would be jealous of. There are a couple of dry skin hacks that can speed up this process:
- Step 1: Scrub your entire body with a body brush to remove dull, dry, flaky skin, then take a shower.
- Step 2: Apply a body moisturizer while your skin is still damp, followed by a skin-softening body oil.
- Step 3: Wear a moisturizing sheet mask on your face for 20 minutes. When you take it off, apply your regular moisturizer immediately without washing the sheet mask serum off your face.
- Step 4: Coat your face in Vaseline.
- Step 5: Add a lip mask to soothe flaking or cracked lips. Lip masks are thicker than your average balm, and can soften your lips overnight.
If you do all of these things, you’ll wake up with radiant skin. And don’t forget, we can deliver these and other skincare products to you in just 30 minutes.