Dry skin is a drag. It can feel tight, itchy, sensitive, flaky, irritated, or just straight-up dull. Plus, it leaves you looking like less than your true glowy self.
“Think of our outer skin layer like the tiles on your shower floor. If the grout between the tiles isn’t intact, water will leak through. The same is true of your skin,” says New York City-based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. “If the outer layer is not working as well as it should be, the skin can’t maintain adequate hydration.”
Usually, this occurs as a result of a combination of factors, including genetics, age, exposure to cold and dry weather, and even using harsh skin-care products.
Whatever culprits have dried you out, it’s important to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. “If untreated, cracks in the skin or worsening symptoms can develop,” says dermatologist Rajani Katta, M.D., author of Glow: The Dermatologist’s Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. “In more severe cases, dry skin can lead to inflamed skin, resulting in dermatitis (which causes skin to get swollen, red, and possibly blister, ooze, and crust).”
That’s why Katta recommends her patients moisturize after showering while their skin is still damp. “For dry skin, we prefer creams and ointments over lotions. Lotions have a lot of water, so they just don’t ‘lock’ moisture into the skin as well.”
Which products should you steer towards, then? Look for creams and ointments formulated with the following ingredients for dry skin.
These compounds are found naturally in the outer layers of your skin. “Ceramides are natural fats that fill in cracks between skin cells,” says Zeichner.
“Dermatologists like to describe the outer layer of the skin as consisting of a ‘brick and mortar structure’, where the bricks are your skin cells and the mortar are your skin lipids,” adds Katta. “Ceramides are a key component of these lipids, and moisturizers containing ceramides can help replenish your skin’s lipids.”
2. Colloidal Oatmeal
Not only is oatmeal delicious, but it can also do wonders when applied to dry skin. Colloidal oatmeal is just oat grain ground down into powder form.
“Colloidal oatmeal is rich in sugars and starches that sit on the surface of the skin to form a protective seal, so it hydrates and soothes inflammation,” says Zeichner. “It also contains soothing antioxidants known as avenanthramides.”
There’s a reason that products like Vaseline petroleum jelly are still used today. They fall into a category called occlusives and are great for dry skin.
“Occlusives tend to be thick and greasy, which means they help hold water in the skin by preventing water loss,” explains Katta. “If you soak your skin and then apply petrolatum, that can help seal moisture into the skin. Many products today utilize a combination of ingredients, including water or other ingredients add moisture to the skin and occlusives such as petrolatum to seal that moisture in.”
Petrolatum, in particular, is the purified oil found in petroleum jelly. Zeichner says it’s one of the biggest multitaskers we have to both hydrate and protect our skin.
4. Hyaluronic acid
Hyaluronic acid is also a compound found naturally in our skin, and it functions as a humectant. “Humectants act like sponges, pulling water up from the deeper layers of the skin into the outer layers of the skin,” says Katta. “Using these in combination with an occlusive can help retain more moisture in the skin.”
Glycerin is another example of a humectant that helps pull moisture into the outer layer of the skin, creating a more moisturized, plump appearance. “It also has anti-irritant effects to soothe skin inflammation,” Zeichner says.
Katta recommends combining glycerin with an occlusive ingredient (or looking for a product that already does) to get that one-two punch of moisturization and protection.
Dimethicone, which is similar to silicone, acts as an occlusive to form a breathable seal over the surface of the skin, says Zeichner. Since it is technically an oil, it’s what’s commonly found in oil-free moisturizers.
This ingredient also acts as an emollient, meaning it helps to smooth out the surface of the skin.