It’s typically the mission of anyone with a complexion to avoid dry skin at all costs. Drab dullness, embarrassing flaking, and makeup that refuses to affix to your skin in that polished way — where do we opt out? Despite your best efforts, though, dryness can happen, whether it’s due to the environment, genetics, or stress, which is why it’s a common concern. On the plus side, you can prevent it with the right regimen — and Bustle pinged a handful of dermatologists for intel on the best skin care routine for dry skin types.
Combatting dryness is essential not only because hydrated skin looks and behaves better, but New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, M.D. says it’s also about your overall skin health. “Hydrated skin doesn’t just look supple and plump, but proper moisture actually allows your skin to function as a barrier and direct its energy toward repairing collagen and elastic fibers,” she explains. “When your skin is chronically dry, it leads to something called ‘subclinical inflammation,’” she adds. This can cause the skin to age more rapidly and be more susceptible to allergens and irritants.
Besides caring for your skin topically, Bowe notes it’s also important to hydrate from the inside out. For the job, she recommends drinking lots of water or low-sugar, antioxidant-infused drinks, and eating plenty of fiber-rich veggies — which, along with being chock-full of water, help to keep your gut healthy. “A healthy gut equals healthy skin,” she tells Bustle.
For your topical regimen, scroll on for what Bowe and other derms say about the ideal skin care routine for dry skin.
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1. Gently Cleanse
No surprise here: Any legit skin care routine will start with thoroughly cleansing the skin. For dry skin types, the ideal cleanser is one that’s gentle but effective enough to remove dirt, oil, and makeup without sucking moisture out of the skin barrier. Dr. Jenny Liu, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Minneapolis, likes non-foaming cream cleansers since foaming formulas tend to contain harsher surfactants like sulfates — substances added to liquids that allow them to lather and spread more easily — which can be more drying.
According to Pittsburgh-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D., you should keep your morning cleanse more light and simple than your p.m. wash since the nighttime is when you remove everything your skin was exposed to during the day. If you want to be extra gentle, she says you could even consider skipping the cleanser in the morning and opt for splashing your face with cool water instead.
2. Use Chemical Exfoliants (Sparingly)
All of the derms Bustle spoke with suggest exercising caution when it comes to exfoliating acids. Still, Liu and Kansas City, Kansas-based dermatologist Dr. Chris Tomassian, M.D. say dry skin types can benefit from gentle chemical exfoliants, like glycolic and lactic acid, that help to slough away dead skin cells and improve dullness. If you’re going to exfoliate, you can use a gentle peel, mask, or toner after cleansing. Just use these sparingly because they can lead to dryness when overused (over-exfoliation is a thing). Most labels will instruct you to use once a week (or even daily), but dry skin should abide by the philosophy “less is more.”
3. Apply A Serum
The next step in your daytime routine is to apply your favorite hydrating serum. Avoid harsh actives and instead look for formulas that contain hyaluronic acid, which is a popular humectant (humectants are ingredients that pull moisture from the air or from deeper within your skin). “Even though hyaluronic acid has the word ‘acid’ in it, it’s not an exfoliating acid — HA is a hydrator,” Bowe tells Bustle. And it’s a must-have ingredient for a dry skin care routine, especially because it works so well with so many other ingredients like ceramides. You could also opt for a vitamin C serum since antioxidants help protect your skin from external aggressors and, therefore, added dryness.
For the nighttime, you can turn to retinol, another powerhouse ingredient that you’ll find in lots of serums — but make sure you find one that’s right for your complexion. “Retinol is notorious for being irritating when you have dry skin, but there are many over-the-counter options that are well tolerated and gentle,” says Tomassian. Formulas that contain hydrating ingredients to offset irritation are ideal. Another option if you don’t want to risk it? Dr. Elyse Love, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in NYC, suggests keeping an eye out for serums with gentler retinol alternatives like bakuchiol.
Now that you’ve slathered on your serum, you want to follow it up with a good moisturizer. This is especially key after applying anything with hyaluronic acid. As Bowe explains, “The biggest mistake people make with HA serums is that they apply it and then forget to seal it with a moisturizer, and that can actually have the opposite effect on the skin. The HA serum can pull moisture out of your skin, and it can evaporate away, drying out the skin.” Bowe favors adding a few drops of face oil (maybe one with squalane, a natural antioxidant that mimics the body’s natural oils) to your moisturizer for added hydration.
Liu adds to look for thick, creamy formulations with higher concentrations of occlusives, which are ingredients that create a barrier on top of the skin to lock in moisture and prevent transepidermal water loss (when the water in your skin passively evaporates into the external environment). Examples include petrolatum, shea butter, lipids, and jojoba oil.
5. Protect With SPF During the Day
Don’t undo all of your hard work by forgetting the sunscreen. As Liu says, “Sun [exposure] is one of the biggest external factors that can lead to dehydrated and damaged skin.” Tomassian adds that both physical (mineral) or chemical sunscreens are OK, but it should have an SPF of at least 30 and be broad spectrum. Opting for a creamy, moisturizing one is even better.
5. Slug At Night
If you’re looking to really deliver a hydrating punch, Zubritsky says you may want to consider slugging at night (or whenever your skin’s feeling extra parched) — a practice that involves slathering a layer of petroleum jelly (like Vaseline) or other petrolatum-based product on top of your moisturizer. The method gets its name for the slimy, slug-like effect it creates, but, more importantly, it works as an occlusive and so creates a barrier between your skin and the outside environment to really lock in moisture. “Slugging also helps the skin barrier to repair [itself] by acting as a protectant,” Zubritsky prevoiusly told Bustle. Just be careful with this technique if you’ve also got acne-prone skin, because, while the molecules in petrolatum aren’t small enough to clog your pores, it can trap problem-causing dirt, dead skin cells, and debris.
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Dr. Whitney Bowe, M.D., NYC-based board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Elyse Love, M.D., NYC-based board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Jenny Liu, M.D., board-certified dermatologist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Dr. Chris Tomassian, M.D., Kansas City, Kansas-based dermatologist
Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based board-certified dermatologist