When you have flaky, itchy, dry skin, you want fast relief. Easing your dry skin isn't just about what you put on it. It also depends on how you clean your skin, the air around you, and even your clothes.
Try these six tips to soothe your dry skin.
1. Warm Yes, Hot No.
A steamy shower feels good, but that hot water is not a good idea for your dry skin, says dermatologist Andrea Lynn Cambio, MD.
The problem is that hot showers strip your body of its natural oil barrier, and you need that barrier to help trap moisture and keep your skin smooth and moist.
So dial down the temperature and don't linger too long. Skin care experts recommend short, warm showers or baths that last no longer than 5 to 10 minutes.
Afterward, gently pat dry and moisturize your body.
2. Cleanse Gently.
Wash with a soapless cleanser when you shower. Cambio says gentle soaps that are free of fragrance are a great option. Products with deodorant or antibacterial additives can be harsh on skin.
You might also consider a cleanser that contains ceramides, says dermatologist Carolyn Jacob, MD. Ceramides are fatty molecules that make up the outer barrier of your skin. They help skin hold in moisture. Some skin care products use synthetic ceramides to replace those we lose with age.
Go easy on toners, peels, and other astringents made with alcohol, which is drying. When you exfoliate, don't scrub too much or too hard, Jacob says. It can irritate and thicken skin.
3. Shave Smartly.
Shaving can irritate dry skin. As you shave unwanted hair, you're also scraping off natural oils.
The best time to shave is after you shower, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Hairs are softer and more pliable after bathing, making shaving easier.
Always use a shaving cream or gel, and shave in the direction the hair is growing to protect your skin.
Make sure the razor is sharp. A dull razor blade can cause additional irritation. Change your razor blades often. If you are using a blade you've used before, soak it in rubbing alcohol to clean it.
4. Cover Up.
Sun damage is one of the main causes behind dry skin, wrinkles, and roughness. You can help prevent that damage by wearing a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen year-round and dressing right.
In cool weather, Cambio says, be sure to "dress in layers to prevent overheating and perspiring excessively; both can irritate the skin."
To prevent dry, chapped lips in winter, use a lip balm with SPF 15 sunscreen, and cover your lips with a scarf or a hat with a mask.
In summer, wear light, loose, long-sleeved shirts when out in the sun, and wear a 2-inch wide-brimmed hat to shade your neck, ears, and eyes.
5. Follow the Rules of Moisturizing.
The simplest moisturizing products can soothe dry skin. "Petroleum jelly makes a great moisturizer," dermatologist Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD, says. Or you can use mineral oil, a favorite cream, or lotion.
If you like a very rich moisturizer, look for one with shea butter, ceramides, stearic acid, or glycerin, Leslie Baumann, MD, director of the Cosmetic Medicine and Research Institute at the University of Miami, says. "All are rich moisturizers that will help you replenish your skin barrier," Baumann writes in her online article Winter Skin, where she also says she particularly loves glycerin.
Jacobs says that whichever product you choose, a consistent, smart moisturizing routine helps.
Wash with a non-soap liquid cleanser, preferably one with ceramides to replenish the skin's outer layer.
Pat skin dry for less than 20 seconds.
Apply a thick moisturizer to slightly damp skin within minutes of bathing to trap in moisture.
Moisturize your hands every time you wash them so that evaporating water doesn't draw even more moisture from your dry skin.
Finally, look for a cream with sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher to get the added benefit of sun protection. You can find moisturizing sunscreens as ointments, creams, gels, even sprays. The AAD suggests creams as your best bet for helping to combat dry skin.
6. Humidify in Winter.
Cold, dry air is a common cause of dry, irritated skin. Heating your house keeps you warm, but it also removes moisture from the air, which can make dry skin even more parched.
To replenish that missing moisture quickly and easily, use a humidifier in your bedroom, Cambio says. You can track humidity easily with an inexpensive humidity meter, called a hygrometer. Aim for indoor humidity of about 50%.