Top 10 Tips for Cleansing Dry Skin

boy soaking in bath
Soaking too long in the bath can spell trouble for people with dry skin. See more getting beautiful skin pictures.
Alexander Nicholson/Getty Images

If you're struggling with scaly, flaky skin -- whether it's all over your body or concentrated in one area -- you'll want to take notes on these 10 tips for cleansing dry skin. Proper skin cleansing requires understanding how skin works, and there are lots of skin care myths circulating about the largest organ in your body. We've got some good news for you: Taking care of dry skin is fairly simple. Really, it's all about timing, which is essential to proper skin care. Cleansing dry skin calls for being gentle and patient, as well as staying attuned to external factors like the climate. In this article, we'll focus on skin cleansing tips to comfort and nourish dry skin.


10: Exfoliate Gently

One of the most common skin care myths is that dry skin is too fragile to exfoliate. But on the contrary, you can and should exfoliate dry skin -- just be gentle. Removing dead skin cells can bring out your skin's luster and stimulate circulation, promoting your entire body's health [source: Fetterman].

If you've got dry skin, put away the stiff brushes and peach-pit scrubs. Instead, use mild exfoliants like a washcloth, natural-bristle bath brush or a body wash containing microbeads. You could also use a salt- or sugar-based scrub, but add an emollient like olive oil, mineral oil or petroleum jelly to it so the granules don't scratch your skin or remove the fat between the layers of your skin. When you get out of the shower or tub, be gentle when you dry your skin. Instead of rubbing yourself with a bath towel, pat your skin dry.


9: Pick the Right Cleanser

When we were children, we were told to wash until we were squeaky clean and our skin shone. Unfortunately, many of us have held on to that misconception about skin care. Getting squeaky clean isn't a sign that you've done your skin cleansing properly: It's a symptom of stripping away your body's natural oils.

Of course, you want to wash off dirt, bacteria and perspiration, but your skin needs to retain a certain amount of oil and moisture. One of the skin cleansing tips you'll always hear from experts is to use a facial cleanser for your face and a body soap or wash for your body. It sounds like common sense, but many of us use the same cleanser on our faces and our bodies for simplicity's sake. If you've got dry skin, it's especially important to use a specially formulated cleanser for your face. Choose one that's mild and hydrating. For your body, a gentle, fragrance-free soap will work just fine.


8: Limit Your Bathing Time

After a stressful day, is there anything more relaxing than soaking in the bathtub or taking a long, hot shower? If you have dry skin, staying in the shower too long can cause more stress in the long run. Prolonged time in the bath can dry out your skin even further. So limit your bathing time -- unless you're soaking in a pool of mineral oil or skin cream.

As we learned from the previous skin cleansing tip, you'll want to make your bathing time count by using the right skin cleanser. Wet your skin, then apply soap or cleanser with your hand, washcloth or bath puff. Rinse within a minute or two, and hop out of the water within 10 minutes from start to finish. Some skin care experts even recommend being in the water no longer than three minutes -- tops.


7: Moisturize

No matter what type of skin you have, you need to moisturize it. This is another area where skin care myths abound. Some people think that misting skin with bottled or canned water counts as moisturizing, but when the water evaporates, it actually strips moisture from the skin. As with skin cleansers, you'll want to look for moisturizers made especially for dry skin. Dry-skin moisturizers typically contain emollients like ceramides, olive or mineral oil and petrolatum. These ingredients seal in your skin's natural oils while creating a protective layer on the surface. This barrier will prevent cracks and sores, seal out potentially harmful germs and viruses, and give your complexion a healthy glow.


6: Don't Strip

After rinsing off your skin cleanser and patting your skin dry with a towel, it's a good idea to apply a toner to close your skin's pores. Omitting this step can cause pimples to break out -- even on dry skin. Doctors and beauty experts recommend incorporating a toner into your daily facial cleansing regimen. There are many skin toners on the market to choose from, but if you have dry skin, you'll want to pay attention to the ingredients. If your skin sometimes resembles the Sahara, you've probably been told to avoid products that contain alcohol -- but this isn't necessarily good advice. While it's true that some alcohol pulls the moisture from your skin, just like a paint stripper takes varnish right off wood furniture and floors, other alcohols such as cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol and cetearyl alcohol should be OK for dry skin. Some people opt for toners that contain witch hazel, an astringent that's alcohol-free.


5: Cleanse in a Humid Space

If you hail from the Everglades or some other humid place, count yourself lucky: This is the ideal climate for cleansing and caring for dry skin. But even if you live near the North Pole, you can create a humid space in which to cleanse your skin. Simply run the shower or fill the bathtub with hot water, and keep the bathroom door shut to trap moisture in the room. This way, you'll also capture as much moisture in your skin as possible. Remember that you need to limit the time your skin is immersed or exposed to water, so spend just a few minutes in your makeshift steam room.


4: Use Sunscreen

Part of your dry skin cleansing regimen should involve the daily application of sunscreen. Just like wind can erode the largest rock formation, so can the sun wreak havoc on dry skin. If you already have a favorite moisturizer that you apply after washing your face, you may think adding a sunscreen on top of that will feel too heavy on your face. However, you can get the best of both worlds with a moisturizer that contains SPF.

If you're going to be outdoors for prolonged periods of time or in extremely hot temperatures, you'll need more protection. Put on sunblock and reapply every few hours. Remember to cover your ears and your neckline. Don't forget about your lips, either. It doesn't take a whole lot of sun exposure for lips to dry out, crack and bleed. Prevent this painful chapping by using a lip balm that contains sunscreen.


3: Be a Conscientious Shopper

By now, you've read seven tips for cleansing dry skin, and you may worry you won't remember a single one. That's OK as long as you commit this one to memory: Buy cleansing products that are specially formulated for dry skin.

When you're grocery shopping, you probably take a few seconds to scan the nutrition labels of cereal boxes before you toss them into your cart. After all, you want to know what effect the cereal will have on your body. Why not read the ingredients list on bottles of body wash and facial cleanser? Those products will have an effect on your body, too. Ensure that the product doesn't contain certain alcohols, some of which can dry out your skin. Dyes and fragrances should signal a warning bell that the product might irritate your skin, but ingredients such as oatmeal and shea butter suggest that the cleanser will offer relief for tight, dry skin. Some cleansers are even labeled that they're ideal for dry skin -- this really takes the guesswork out of shopping.


2: Moisturize After Washing Your Hands

Health experts advise that washing your hands is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of diseases. It's recommended that you wash your hands after using the restroom and before and after eating. If you're sick -- or a family member or co-worker is -- you're encouraged to wash your hands even more frequently. All this hand-washing can add up to 10 times a day or more that you expose your hands to hot water and harsh cleaners. It's enough to strip even normal skin of its moisture. Dry skin calls for extra care, so keep lotion or another emollient close by and apply it immediately after washing and patting dry your hands. You'll start to notice an improvement in your skin's condition almost immediately.


1: Take a Whole-body Approach

We pay so much attention to cleansing and moisturizing our hands, neck and face that we often neglect our lower limbs. Cover 'em and forget about 'em, right? That's the approach some people take to caring for their feet and lower legs. But when it comes to skin, your lower legs can easily become dry. Think about the last time you wore shorts and then spent the day outside, exposing your legs to the sun's hot rays. Did you moisturize your legs later to rehydrate the skin?

Despite the abuse they endure, feet also get forgotten. Some spas report that although pedicures are popular, customers often skimp on caring for their heels at home and leave the dirty work for professionals. One study finds that people only moisturize their feet eight times a month on average [source: Saint Louis].

Make sure you give every inch of your skin the attention it deserves -- even the soles of your feet and your heels. Dry skin is more than an eyesore; it can be very painful if you don't take proper care of it.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Fetterman, Debbie. "Proper skin care helps your soul as well as your appearance, says Dallas esthetician." Dallas Morning News. July 28, 2009. (August 15, 2009).
  • Gorgos, Diana. "How to protect your skin when Jack Frost bites." January 2005. (August 12, 2009).;col1
  • Polumbus, Riley. "The skinny on dry skin." Steamboat Pilot & Today. August 10, 2009. (August 12, 2009).
  • Saint Louis, Catherine. "The secret is out: we can see your feet." The New York Times. August 6, 2009. (August 12, 2009).
  • Weightman, Judy. "Itchy, dry skin could be a sign of eczema." Philadelphia Metro. August 3, 2009. (August 12, 2009).
  • ABC Columbia. "WFW: A natural cleanser for your skin." (August 19, 2009).