Dry, flaky skin on your face and around your mouth can cause irritation and discomfort. If you’re suffering from this condition, medically referred to as xerosis, you’re not alone. According to research from the International Society of Dermatology, over 40 percent of Americans claim to have dry or sensitive skin (1).
“Dry skin is characterized by an impaired skin barrier, which allows increased water evaporation from the skin’s surface,” says Dr. Mara Weinstein, assistant professor of dermatology and dermatologic surgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “A regimen tailored to nourish dry skin should involve protecting and replenishing the skin’s lipids.”
Dry skin is caused by a variety of factors including aging, changes in the weather, and certain skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, which are characterized by flaky, red patches. If you want to boost moisture levels and effectively heal dry skin on your face, follow these simple steps.
Dry Skin Roadmap: Essential Steps to Take
1. Use an oil- or cream-based cleanser. “I advise people with dry skin to start with an oil-based cleanser,” says Dr. Kachiu C. Lee, assistant professor of dermatology at Brown University. “It is less likely to strip your skin of natural oils compared to a water-based cleanser.”
When choosing a cleansing product for dry, flaky skin, avoid foaming cleansers and gel-based options. “Foams and gels tend to be alcohol-based,” says Weinstein. “Foaming cleansers contain detergents, which strip our skin of its normal lipids.”
2. Wash with warm water. Turning the faucet to a hot-water setting is not conducive to treating dry skin. Instead, make sure the water is mild before cleansing your face. “Hot water removes your natural skin oils more quickly,” Weinstein says. “Warm water is best.”
3. Use an antioxidant-based facial oil. Lee suggests applying a facial oil every morning as an important step before moisturizing. “I recommend facial oils that contain vitamins C and E since these antioxidants also help to protect against sun damage,” she says. “The key is to seal in these oils with a moisturizer on top.”
4. Choose your moisturizers carefully. The most important step in any dry-skincare routine is to moisturize in the morning prior to applying makeup and at night before going to bed. But not all moisturizers on the market will work for dry skin. Dr. Rebecca Tung, chair of the division of dermatology at Loyola University Chicago, recommends looking for moisturizers that contain natural oils such as argan oil, coconut oil and shea butter. Other natural ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and plant-derived glycerin can also help the skin retain moisture, she says.
Make sure your daytime moisturizer contains SPF, or apply sunscreen prior to applying makeup. This simple step will “slow the development of fine lines and wrinkles and prevent premature aging, brown spots, blotchiness, and uneven skin tone,” Weinstein says.
At night, your best bet is to find an emollient-rich moisturizer with ceramides, which are natural lipids found in the skin. “Ceramides help to repair our skin’s lipid barrier and also put some moisture back into the skin,” Lee says.
5. Use Vaseline for tough-to-treat dry patches. “If your moisturizer isn’t working and you have persistent dry patches, Vaseline can help to heal the dryness,” Lee says. It’s especially helpful if you have flaky, peeling skin around the mouth or extremely chapped lips. If your mouth area is dry, Lee suggests using Vaseline as an overnight treatment. Just make sure to apply it sparingly, she says, since Vaseline can lead to clogged pores.
Precautions When Treating Dry Skin
If you have dry skin or suffer from eczema, there are certain skincare ingredients you should avoid. “I would not recommend highly fragranced [products] or those with high concentrations of exfoliants, such as hydroxy acids, because they may actually bring out dryness and inflammation,” says Tung.
And be extra cautious when choosing anti-aging moisturizers and serums, because ingredients such as retinol can further dry out your skin. “Tread lightly with anti-aging products,” she adds. “If you have dry or sensitive skin, some products your friends rave about may be too irritating for you and can actually inflame your skin rather than making it appear more youthful.”
Finally, with any skincare routine, it’s important to closely monitor how your skin is reacting to different products and ingredients. “If you’re breaking out with acne, rashes or redness, it’s time to switch up the routine,” Lee says. “You may be over-stressing your skin with too many products, clogging pores or causing irritation.” If problems persist, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist to find a solution that works for you.
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