How to Use Moisturizers Correctly to Treat Dry Skin

Cynthia Bailey, MD|January 25, 2013

Even the best moisturizers won't help your skin if you use them incorrectly. I'm asked all the time to recommend a "good moisturizer" for patients in my dermatology practice. The advice that I give my patients starts with the basics. What Causes Dry Skin? First, you need to know that you can have dry skin for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Some people are born with it. (They usually have a family history of hay fever, asthma, or eczema too.)
  • The older we get the less oils our skin produces. We become more prone to skin dryness with its associated chapping, eczema, and skin barrier damage.
  • Repeated exposure to soaps, solvents, and hot water can cause skin to become dry because they remove the skin’s natural oils from the top layer of cells, damaging it.
  • Being in harsh, dry climates with low relative humidity and/or cold winds also dries out the skin by "pulling" out water causing chapping and damage.

Regardless of the cause, dry skin is damaged, vulnerable, and more porous than hydrated skin. Water escapes more easily and irritants like solvents and allergens get in faster. Dry skin is also more prone to eczema breakdown and itching. A healthy skin barrier requires a healthy level of skin hydration. What's the best skin care routine to treat and prevent dry skin? #1 How You Bathe Matters Bathing can be good or bad for skin hydration depending on how you do it. To heal dry skin, bathe with warm to lukewarm water, never steamy hot. Hot water removes more skin oils and increases skin inflammation. Minimize soaping to only the oily and odor causing parts of your skin such as your face, armpits, buttocks, groin, and feet. Soap your skin with only mild soaps. My favorite options include Toleriane Cleanser, which is an ultra gentle cleanser that I use especially for dry, sensitive facial skin. Best cleanser for dry facial skin   I also like naturally made soaps that don’t have the glycerin removed and that do have excess alkali removed. My favorite is these economical bar soaps, which are what I use in my own bath and shower. Naturally Best Bar Soap   Other good options are naturally made glycerin soaps, Dove Soap, or a product called Vani Soap. #2 How You Moisturize Your Skin Matters Hydrated skin is skin with water and oil mixed into the cell layers. Your skin soaks in water when you bathe and you need to trap that water or else it will evaporate, leaving you with even drier skin. This means that within three minutes after toweling-off from your bath or shower you must pat your skin dry with a towel and then apply a thin layer of moisturizing cream or oil to your skin. This traps the water. DO NOT WAIT LONGER THAN THREE MINUTES. Moisturizing product options include:

  1. Pure oils such as jojoba oil, almond oil, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, etc.
  2. Butters like shea butter or cocoa butter work too.
  3. High oil ointments such as Vaseline jelly, Aquaphor, and Bag Balm (contains wool lanolin).
  4. Bland creams such as Vanicream, Eucerin Creme (contains wool lanolin), Cetaphil Cream, and Nivea Cream.

Many lighter lotions have water added and contain much less of the important oil ingredients. They are only helpful for maintenance skin care once your dry skin is healed. My favorite moisturizers are made with a combination of all of the above, and yet are cosmetically elegant to use and well priced. They include the products that I personally use and that I recommend to my patients for their dry skin care treatments. They are my All Natural Face and Body Butter Cream, which is ultra rich and ultra healing yet absorbs into your skin never leaving an oily or heavy feel. All Natural Face and Body Butter Cream   And, my All Natural Face, Hand and Body Lotion, which is also deeply hydrating and spreads even more easily on hairy skin and thus preferred by most of my male patients (and my husband). All Natural Face, Hand and Body Lotion For your dry hand skin, which gets bathed (washed) and thus needs to be moisturized multiple times a day, I depend on my Dry Skin Hand Repair Kit which has a convenient non-drying soap and a non-greasy hand cream. These products are practical, convenient to use, and affordable. Best Dry Skin Hand Repair Kit     Photo: Thanks and Gratitude to Jared

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