When our skin is hydrated, it’s soft, supple and smooth. But dry skin, which can happen from your face to your feet, can cause itchiness, flakiness, and irritation. Although dry skin can be caused by a variety of factors, there are ways to manage the condition and help you get rid of dry skin for good.
Table of Contents
Signs & Symptoms of Severe Dry Skin
What Causes Severe Dry Skin?
How to Treat Dry Skin
Dermatologist Tips for Getting Rid of Dry skin
Dry Skin Symptoms and Signs
Early symptoms of dryness include skin feeling tight or rough. It’s important to address the condition before the skin becomes severely dry or cracked. “Dry skin is more than a nuisance—the condition can cause irritation and discomfort when not treated properly. For example, one sign of dry skin is cracking—also known as skin fissures— which occurs when the skin loses its ability to hold moisture, thus compromising the skin’s moisture barrier,” says Lisa Adams, Skincare expert at Curél Brand.
The best way to avoid making dry skin more severe is to know the various symptoms to look out for. If you’re suffering from any of the conditions below, your skin is most likely dry.
1. Gray or dull in appearance
If you look at your body and notice a dull or discolored appearance on the surface of your skin, that’s a sign of dry skin. This symptom is most commonly found on the legs and arms, but can also be anywhere on the body, and is a sign that skin is beginning to become too dry. “Dead-cell build-up from dry skin can make your skin look gray and dull,” explains Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified NYC dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
If you get out of the shower and your skin feels tight, that’s another indication that you’re suffering from dry skin. Tightness in the skin can be caused by your diet, lifestyle, or exposure to certain environmental factors, like the sun.
Redness is another common side effect of dry skin. “This often happens when the skin’s barrier loses enough moisture to become disrupted. Once disrupted, external irritants easily pass through the skin’s permeable barrier, causing redness,” says Adams from Curél Brand.
4. Itchy Skin
The most notorious and annoying symptom is itchy skin. "Once the skin barrier has flaked off and the nerve endings that are normally protected by the skin are exposed, itching occurs,” says, Adams. Even though scratching could offer some temporary relief, Adams warns that “As you scratch, you’re further irritating and damaging more nerve endings, essentially kicking off the itch-scratch cycle.”
Now that you know some of the signs and symptoms of dry skin to look out for, it’s important to also recognize what factors cause dry skin.
Causes of Dry Skin
Although dry skin is quite common, it’s not attributable to one condition or factor; rather, there are a slew of environmental factors and conditions that can cause it. In fact, your skin is affected by everything you come in contact with since it’s the physical barrier between your body and the external world. So just as your biological makeup, diet, and lifestyle choices can cause dry skin, so can environmental factors including the climate you’re in, how much time you’re spending in the sun, and how you’re taking care of your skin. Here are the primary factors that contribute to dry skin:
1. Low Humidity Climates
One of the biggest factors that cause dry skin, according to Adams, is climate. She explains that "The body reaches equilibrium with the environment at an ambient humidity of 70%," for example, “winter climates or desert areas have very low humidity, and the lack of humidity in the air means less moisture in the skin.” She adds that “When the weather is cooler the humidity can drop to 20% to even 10%.”
2. The Sun
Likewise, spending too much time in the sun can also dry out the skin. “Too much time in the direct sun causes the top layers to lose moisture and can turn into a sunburn and all the issues associated with it,” Adams notes.
Tip: Apply at least SPF 30 diligently every 2 hours to avoid the harmful effects of UV rays.
3. Poor Diet
Another factor that causes dry skin is poor diet, says Adams. “Skin is the largest organ in the body and just as our internal organs benefit from a healthy diet, so does skin.” Steer clear of foods that contribute to dehydration, such as excessive alcohol and salty foods.
It’s not just what’s happening outside the body that matters—but also internal factors that can contribute to dry skin, like genetics. “An individual’s genetic makeup will determine how well the skin barrier system will function,” Adams says, “which ultimately contributes to how well skin stays hydrated on its own.”
Similar to genetics, hormonal changes are also a big factor, particularly with regard to estrogen. “As women age and enter menopause, their estrogen levels drop off,” explains Adams. She adds that “Estrogen is linked to change in skin thickness. As the skin thins, it also loses its ability to hold moisture,” thus drying out with age.
6. Poor Skincare Routine
Although you may think your skincare routine is helping to tame your dry skin, the products you’re using could actually be the ones causing your dry skin. For example, you should always use a mild cleanser that does not strip the skin of its natural oils. “Cream cleansers are typically less harsh because they tend to have lower surfactants, which can be drying to the skin," explains Adams.
Understanding what causes dry skin is not only useful to know what to avoid, but also for treating your dry skin. Below are expert tips for treatments that help revive your dry skin back to a moisturized and healthy glow.
How to Treat Dry Skin
Maintaining a good skincare routine is important, and Adam explains “The best way to treat dry skin is through a combination of ingredients.” Using a combination of specific products in your skin routine is crucial to treating dry skin. For example, Dr. Jaliman always recommends starting out with a mild cleanser. She advises, “Look for one with glycerin—which is a water-holding humectant—on the ingredient label, as it will prevent that tightness in the skin.” She also warns, “Make sure to stay away from harsh soaps as they’ll actually just dry out your skin more.”
Once your skin has been cleansed, the key is to use a lotion for dry skin that keeps skin hydrated and creates a protective barrier that locks moisture into your skin, while also preventing environmental factors from getting inside. Adams recommends looking for a wet skin moisturizer with ceramides, a natural lipid that helps retain skin’s moisture levels. Adams also suggests, “For sensitive skin around the eyes, try something lightweight that will rub in easily as to not irritate the skin. Look for a fragrance free lotion that contains ingredients like glycerin.”
Check out the dermatologist-approved tips below for more information on how to treat dry skin and what ingredients to look for.
7 Dermatologist Tips to Get Rid of Dry Skin
Dry skin is never fun, as it often comes with skin discomforts such as tightness, itchiness, and flaking. But whatever the cause of your dry skin, it is possible to get rid of dry skin with the help of the right products. Employing smart tricks into your skincare routine and making positive lifestyle choices can help mitigate dry skin and its effects.
1. Use moisturizers with hydrating ingredients
There are two big ingredients to look out for on the label: ceramides and glycerin. “Ceramides are naturally present in healthy skin and are the vital building blocks to keeping skin’s moisture barrier functioning properly. When ceramides are lost, skin becomes dry and damaged. Glycerin, a humectant, keeps things moist for both immediate and long-last hydration,” says Adams.
2. Exfoliate—but gently
Exfoliating the skin—either with a tool like a dry brush or with a scrub—helps to remove excess dead skin cells along with flakes and dry patches. Gently exfoliating removes the oldest dead skin cells on the outermost surface of the skin, which in turn improves the skin’s texture and radiance,” says Adams. However, the keyword here is gentle. “Rigorous actions and tools are actually abrasive and can cause micro-tears in the skin,” says Adams.
Skip the loofah, and opt for a washcloth instead; or a cleanser with foaming action, which removes debris from the surface without harsh abrasions.
3. Stay hydrated
Drinking water is just as important as using moisturizer, as hydration starts from the inside out. Adams recommends drinking at least eight glasses of water per day and drinking two of those glasses as soon as you wake up. “Your skin loses moisture to the environment; and the drier the environment is, the more water you’ll lose overnight and therefore the more you’ll need to drink the next day to replenish the moisture loss that occurred through your skin,” explains Adams.
4. Avoid long & hot baths or showers
While a hot shower or bath may feel good, it won’t do your skin any favors. “Hot temperatures can strip the skin of natural moisturizers,” notes Adams. Stick to lukewarm, short showers—think under ten minutes—and you’ll notice that your scorching hot water was probably causing some of those flakes in the first place.
Likewise, your shower temperature should range between 96 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit, with the general rule that the water should be close to your own body temperature. So if you get out of the shower and your skin’s all red and flushed, turn that dial down!
5. Apply lotion immediately after showering
The best time to lock hydration into the skin is as soon as you finish showering. For example, a wet skin moisturizer can be applied to the skin right after showering, or you can stash your moisturizer in the shower so you don’t forget to apply it. That way, your moisturizer works as hard as possible on damp skin. “A good moisturizer is designed to retain and lock moisture in the skin and leave the skin feeling soft and smooth,” says Adams.
6. Eat foods high in carotene and omega-6 fatty acids
Another important way to build the skin’s barrier is to start from the inside out and by eating vitamin-rich and nutrient-dense whole foods. You can literally feed your skin from the inside out. For example, ingesting omega-6 fats, such as those found in the avocado, can make skin smoother and more supple. Foods rich in beta-carotene, such as carrots or sweet potatoes, help prevent damaging free radicals from interacting with the skin.
7. Use natural emollients
If you have dry skin, emollients are a perfect way to replenish your skin’s moisture levels. According to Wikipedia, “Emollients are used for protecting, moisturizing, and lubricating the skin. These functions are normally performed by sebum produced by healthy skin.” Some effective emollients Adams recommends are:
Getting rid of dry skin isn’t a quick fix, but rather involves a series of lifestyle and product tweaks. So remember to consider the following: