Many of us have those days when we realize how dull, dry and patchy our skin is. And many of us have those nights when we attempt to combat the problem by engaging in a long ritual involving cleansers, toners and five different nighttime creams.
If you can relate to these scenarios, you're one of millions of Americans who try to fight dry skin with a bathroom cabinet full of skin care products. Dry skin, or xerosis, can appear on all parts of the body [source: Caplan]. The most common treatment is the application of a daily moisturizer to prevent more serious conditions from developing. But controlling flaky, scaly skin can be as simple as showering in cooler water or changing your cleanser. In fact, you can simplify your daily skin care regimen once you understand the causes and best treatments for dry skin.
Your outermost layer of skin, which contains protective oils, is your best defense against harmful drying elements like the sun and wind. But it's easy to strip the skin of these oils through exposure to the elements or by not using the appropriate skin care products. The cosmetics industry is a billion-dollar business, and there are many cleansers, lotions and creams on the market that boast unique formulas and great benefits. These products are designed for different parts of the body and incorporate various combinations of lubricating and cleansing elements. The number of choices can be overwhelming, so you must arm yourself with the right information to treat your dry skin. You may think one size fits all, but you need to understand what key ingredients will work best for you.
Read on to learn how to properly moisturize dry skin.
Daily Moisturizing for Dry Skin
If it's difficult for you to maintain a daily moisturizing ritual, the culprit may be the 10 different creams you're using -- no wonder you're tired! Daily moisturizing doesn't have to be a complicated multistep process. Moisturizing can be as simple as keeping a bottle of baby oil in the shower to apply before toweling off, or it could be as easy as leaving a bottle of lotion by the sink for a quick dollop after washing. In fact, a good moisturizer is often all you'll need to make dry skin a thing of the past.
Oils are the key ingredients in lubricants that moisturize your skin, but not all lotions are created equal. A daily hand lotion may be all you need, but if your skin is extremely dry, try a lotion that contains shea, olive or cocoa butter. These ingredients further protect skin from dryness by holding in moisture and forming a barrier between the skin and outside elements like the sun and wind. Ointment moisturizers, lotions with a thicker consistency, are recommended for problem areas like heels and elbows.
If you have sensitive skin, washing too often or using the wrong cleanser can cause acne and conditions like dermatitis and eczema, medical conditions that inflame and irritate the skin [source: WebMD]. But there are plenty of gentle moisturizers designed for sensitive and acne-prone skin. Look for lotions labeled as noncomedogenic because these are less likely to clog pores. Moisturizers that contain mineral oil, avocado oil and primrose oil are gentle on sensitive skin. Using a lotion that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher is also recommended because it protects delicate facial skin from the sun. Also, be aware that many age-defying moisturizers contain alpha-hydroxy acids, which can cause excessive drying [source: Bouchez].
You need to get rid of excess oil, but you don't want to dry out your skin. Read on to learn how to properly cleanse your skin.
Daily Cleansing for Dry Skin
Think of your skin as a fine wooden table. The wood contains essential oils that are protected by a strong outer finish. If you scrub the table daily with a harsh cleanser, you'll strip away the protective coating, dry the underlying wood and cause cracks to appear. To take proper care of the table, you must use a special furniture cleaner and protect the tabletop from stains. The same amount of care should be given to your skin. The cleansers you use on your body affect the amount of moisture your skin retains. Harsh cleansers can be damaging to the outermost layer of your skin, just as an abrasive soap can be damaging to the table's finish [source: University of Iowa Department of Dermatology].
While it may seem counterintuitive, cleaning products can actually cause your skin to produce more oil, and using moisture-zapping soaps, astringents and toners can further damage and dry your skin. To avoid these problems, steer clear of antibacterial and deodorant soaps and choose body and facial cleansers instead. This is especially important if you have sensitive skin or combination skin with a mix of dry and oily patches.
If your skin is extremely dry, moisturizing cleansers can be used without water; however, water is essential to healthy skin and should play a role in your daily skin care regimen. Limit your showers to one 10-minute shower a day and keep the water temperature from getting too hot. Excessive bathing and exposure to extremely hot water can both dry your skin further [source: MayoClinic].
Prevention is the best medicine, so keep reading to learn how to protect your skin from dryness.
Daily Protection for Dry Skin
If you're prone to dry skin, you can treat it -- and possibly even prevent it -- with a few simple tricks. First, line up your skin care products and read the ingredient lists. Then, consult the ingredients guidelines outlined on the previous pages and check to see if you're using the products properly.
Next, dissect how you cleanse your skin. If you take long, hot showers multiple times a day, stop that habit immediately. Make sure your bath soap is moisturizing -- not deodorizing -- because deodorizing soaps can strip your skin of its oils. After showering, you can seal in that moisture by applying baby oil to your skin before drying off. You can also liberally apply lotion to your skin before toweling off. Bothered by scaly feet? Apply lotion to your tootsies before bed and cover them with a pair of lightweight socks. The same trick is recommended for hands. Before washing dishes, apply lotion to your hands and slip on rubber gloves [source: Davis].
Now that you know the basics of a daily dry skin care regimen, you can visit the links on the following page to learn more.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Skin Care Questions
- Oehlke, Sandra. "Moisturizing and Bathing Tips to Help Manage and Soothe Your Eczema." The Advocate. The National Eczema Association. Fourth Quarter 2007. http://www.nationaleczema.org/news/advocate/2007_04q_moisturizing_and_bathing_tips_to_help_sooth_your_eczema.pdf
- Article Archives. "Packaged Facts Report: Innovative Trends in U.S. Cosmeceuticals Bring in Top Dollar." June 14, 2008 (Accessed 7/28/09) http://www.articlearchives.com/consumer-products/personal-care-products-cosmetics/345916-1.html
- Bouchez, Colette. "Spring Cleaning: How to Pamper Your Skin. What to do right now to get your face and body ready for spring." WebMD. March 21, 2005. (Accessed 7/28/09) http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/features/spring-cleaning-how-to-pamper-your-skin?page=3
- Davis, Susan. "10 Winter Skin Care Tips. The weather outside may be unsightly, but your skin doesn't have to be. How to banish dry skin and give your winter skin care regimen a boost." WebMD. Dec. 21, 2007. (Accessed 7/28/09) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/ten-winter-skin-care-tips
- Find Articles. "Don't Skimp on Skin Care as Nasty Weather Chaps and Dries." Jan. 28, 2008. (Accessed 7/28/09) http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20080128/ai_n21218574/
- Find Articles. "Diversity of population reflected in skin care." Aug. 11, 2008. (Accessed 7/28/09) http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3235/is_12_25/ai_n29457773/
- Caplan, Richard. "Eczema: The Dry Skin Disease." University of Iowa Health Science Relations. Oct. 19, 2006.
- MayoClinic.com November, 26, 2008. (Accessed 8/14/09) http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/library/dry-skin/DS00560.html
- WebMD "Eczema." 2009. (Accessed 8/14/09) http://www.webmd.com/allergies/guide/eczema