The Best Skin Care Routine for Dry Skin (All-Day Hydration)

The Best Skin Care Routine for Dry Skin (All-Day Hydration)

Everyone wants to look their best day today, but with the pressures of the modern world, it can be hard to get it right all the time.

If you have dry skin, you’ll know that it can be hard to keep it properly hydrated morning, noon, and night.

This is why we have created our ultimate all-day skin care routine for dry skin.

Backed by the latest research, it gives you a clear path to healthy and hydrated skin with recommendations proven to work.

Unfortunately, not following a good regimen can result in itchy, flaky, and irritating skin. If you have troublesome skin that seems resistant to moisturizing, you need a good skincare routine to bring everything back into balance.

The ultimate routine for dry skin is as much about what it leaves out as much as what’s included. If you’ve read any of our other skincare articles, you’ll know that we are big proponents of consistent skincare. Plastering your face and body the most expensive lotions and serums out there simply won’t fix your problems in one day.

In the case of dry skin, it may feel even tighter and potentially cracked, leaving it vulnerable to even more dryness.

We know that trialing and testing products can be a bit of a minefield. To help get you started, we have outlined the dos and don’ts of dry skin care, followed up by our ultimate routine, which should restore your complexion to a healthy and happy state.

Our next section goes into a little detail on the science behind dry skin–essential reading if you want to be making informed choices about how to improve your skin health.

What causes dry skin?

skin care routine for dry skin

Within dermatology, dry skin is not actually a well-defined condition.[1]

Instead, it represents a mixture of relatively unrelated changes in a layer of skin known as the stratum corneum. When dermatologists talk about dry skin, they actually mean decreased water content within the stratum corneum.[2]

This water content level is of central importance in retaining the normal appearance and texture of your skin. However, as skin is a living part of you, hydrating the skin is not as simple as jumping into a swimming pool.

There are three main factors, which decide how well hydrated your skin is:[3]

1. How quickly water is transported from the lower levels of your skin up to the stratum corneum

The first factor is largely dependent on how well hydrated your body is. Always do the easy fixes first. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water each day if dry skin is troubling you.

2. How well the stratum corneum binds to water

The second factor can be improved or worsened by environmental factors as well as medical conditions. So exposing your skin to a cleaning solvent or detergent decreases the stratum corneum’s ability to bind water. This is similarly the case with conditions such as eczema and with overuse of medication like retinoids.[4]

3. How quickly water evaporates from the surface of your skin

The third factor is perhaps most easily modified by skin care products. Without getting lost in the science, what you need to know is that the bigger the difference in hydration or humidity levels of your skin versus the outside environment, the faster water will be lost from your skin.

In practical terms, this means that your skin dries out faster the more cold, windy, and dry your environment is.[5] The environment here really means the immediate environment, which is why we apply moisturizer to our skin.

Dermatologists call this ‘restoring skin barrier function.’

Preventing dry skin

preventing dry skin

Applying a layer of moisturizer decreases the effect of wind and increases the humidity level surrounding your skin. This, in turn, slows down the rate of water evaporation, keeping it hydrated for longer.[6]

Keep in mind this is the most basic way a simple barrier moisturizer like Vaseline will work.

Fortunately, the science of dermatology has come a long way in recent years. Hydrating products contain many more beneficial active ingredients than simply adding in a moisture barrier.

These new products look to tackle the top three causes of dry skin, namely[1]:

  1. A dehydrated stratum corneum,
  2. Increased skin cell turnover, and
  3. Skin barrier damage

A dehydrated stratum corneum can be treated by bathing in water and then using a good moisturizer, locking in the hydration. As mentioned previously, if you tend not to drink enough, upping your intake will also help.

But how to decrease skin cell turnover?

A good product will do this by protecting you from chemical environmental irritants, reducing your UV exposure, and mopping up oxidants and other causes of inflammation. Remember that overusing products such as retinol (or a small amount of a stronger retinoid) will also push your skin cell turnover past the healthy limit.

We usually associate increased skin cell turnover with a fresh and healthy complexion. But there is a rate which the body simply cannot keep up with. Past that point, which is different for everyone, the skin cells and associated lipids, which are needed to hold water, just aren’t made in time.

This results in a weak skin barrier, which allows water to evaporate away and dry the skin.

A good dry skin care regimen will support and add to your natural skin barrier. There are, however, steps you can take yourself to give your skin’s hydration the best possible chance. Avoiding unnecessary sun exposure and wearing protective equipment when dealing with cleaning chemicals or other potential irritants will keep the skin barrier intact.

If you live in a cold and windy climate, then covering up and dressing appropriately will do half the skincare work for you.

As a final self-care point to make: some cultures promote frequent bathing, harsh scrubbing, and rough toweling as the proper way to be clean.[4]

While they are not wrong, pulling back on these three things by just 10 – 20% can help your skin restore most of its normal water levels naturally. Don’t think that you’re helping your skin stay hydrated by jumping into the shower two or three times a day.

In this way, washing simply strips away the vital natural oils required to keep water within the stratum corneum.

Treating dry skin

treating dry skin

Every treatment aimed at relieving skin dryness is focused on restoring hydration to the stratum corneum. This is only possible if the barrier function of the skin is itself restored first.[7]

In a medical setting, eliminating irritants and harsh soap products is seen as the first step that any patient should take.

If you suffer from eczema, you will already be acutely aware of how damaging and drying standard soaps can be. A survey in the United Kingdom showed that 38% of those suffering from eczema experienced a significant flare-up after washing with soap.[7]

This is why sticking to a solid routine is much more beneficial for your skin than mindlessly using whatever products are available.

The first step of actual treatment, rather than prevention, is to use a good moisturizer. Depending on the manufacturer, these are sometimes known as emollients. At the most basic, they not only provide a protective layer over the skin to improve barrier function but also relieve irritating feelings of dryness and itching.[8]

Good quality moisturizers contain a range of ingredients suspended in an oil and water mix. They slow the evaporation of water from the skin’s surface and the rate at which water moves from the deepest layers to the stratum corneum. Together with other active ingredients, this allows for softening and smoothing of the skin and a fresh, rather than dulled, appearance.

If you check the ingredients on your products (and you should), you may see that some contain a ‘humectant.’ Keep in mind that humectants actually bind water to the skin surface, rather than technically hydrating the all-important stratum corneum. The way that humectants such as hyaluronic acid actually work is by leveling out the humidity or moisture gradient, which indirectly hydrates the skin.

Some other good quality moisturizers also contain derivatives of vitamin A, such as retinol palmitate. These verge more towards being a medication as they promote the synthesis of natural glycosaminoglycans, which increase water retention in both the epidermis and dermis.[1]

These moisturizers effectively internally hydrate the skin, which slows the rate of skin cell turnover caused by chronically irritated dry skin.

Dry skin treatment warning

Through multiple studies, doctors have found that most people, even those instructed by medical staff, use moisturizers incorrectly![9]

They are the most effective when used immediately after washing when the skin has not been dried and should be reapplied at regular intervals throughout the day for the most benefit. When used in this way, moisturizers can actually have an anti-inflammatory effect.

When using moisturizer, the consistency of it will tell you where it should be used.

Thin and watery lotions should be reserved for use on the head and other areas of regular hair growth. Your face, arms, and chest should actually all use the same moisturizer type, namely a cream. If you are experiencing especially dry or scaly skin, this is when an ointment is more appropriate.

Finally, remember that good skincare is a marathon, not a race. We say this time and time again, but it is definitely worth noting. Even when you feel like your skin is under control, daily moisturizer use and avoidance of soaps should continue.

If you have exceptionally scaly skin, perhaps as a result of overexposure to a chemical irritant, the last resort to get rid of extreme itching is a 3% salt bath. These can be made at home and are relatively inexpensive but bring about a remarkably fast reduction in the scaling of the skin and significant relief from itching.[1]

Moisturizers such as bran or oatmeal extract can also be added to a bath. As you get out of the bath, oil coats the skin and traps hydration underneath it.

The ultimate routine for dry skin

Now we have covered the science behind dry skin and how to both prevent and treat it, let’s take a look at how to put this into practice.

By now, you probably already have a pretty good idea of the types of environmental factors like the wind and the cold, amongst others that can worsen dry skin.

But what about skin treatments? Not all are created equal, and even picking up ’good’ products off the shelf doesn’t mean they are right for dry skin.

Check out the end of the article for some bonus dos and don’ts to consider after you read our Ultimate Dry Skin Care Routine below.

Morning skin care routine for dry skin

skin care routine for dry skin the morning

Everyone should really have a morning and evening face routine as a minimum. If you have naturally clear skin, then you can get away with it once a day, but for those of us with dry skin, twice a day care gives the best results.

We want to prepare the skin and refresh it from the night before protecting it from the upcoming day’s stressors and pollutants.

Step 1: Cleanser

Washing your face once you get up is everyone’s first step. It removes any products from the previous evening and freshens your face from any nightly build up. Choose a gentle cleanser, preferably with hydrating properties.

Step 2: Serums

There are many types of serum, but for dry skin, we recommend a good antioxidant. Again we prefer natural products as they usually have a mix of antioxidants that will help keep inflation down from daily pollutants.

Step 3: Moisturize

At this point, hopefully, your face will still be wet. If it has dried out while rubbing your serum in, give it a brief splash of water before then applying a moisturizer.

Again you want to pick a good quality moisturizer that doesn’t simply trap water but also promotes true hydration of the skin. Hyaluronic acid is a good place to start.

Once you have finished doing this, make sure you put your moisturizer in your coat or bag if you’re going out that day. Although we said this was a two-part routine, the most effective treatment for dry skin is to lightly moisturize 3 to 4 times a day rather than heavily moisturizing in the morning and hoping it lasts.

Step 4: Apply SPF

The best moisturizers will include UV protection, but if yours does not then, applying some form of sun protection is a must. UV radiation is by far the most damaging thing to human skin. If you do not take steps to limit the sun’s damage, it will also experience further damage as it exacerbates the effects of environmental pollutants.

Regardless of your skin color, you should be choosing an SPF of at least 30. It goes without saying that buying a cheap sun protection product is not a good idea. These can clog your pores and suffocate the skin causing problems down the line.

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Night skin care routine for dry skin

skin care routine for dry skin the evening

Step 1: Cleanser

Unsurprisingly washing your face to remove any pre-existing skin care products and build up the day’s pollution is the first step. Then utilizing another moisturizing cleanser restores any hydration losses that have occurred.

Step 2: Exfoliate

For some reason, exfoliation seems to be suggested as a part of the morning routine. There are several reasons why this is not a good idea. The first is rather obvious. You may as well exfoliate your skin after it has had a day of dirt and grime buildup.

The second reason is that you don’t really want to be exposing fresh and tender skin to the outside world of UV radiation and pollutants immediately.

Instead, once or twice a week, use a gentle exfoliator designed for dry skin in the evening. This will help even out your appearance and remove any dullness from dry or flaky buildup.

Step 3: Toner and/or serum

When it comes to treating skin conditions like dryness, often less is more. Of course, you can amend this routine if you have enough personal experience, but we recommend initially starting with either a hydrating toner or specialist serum.

Each will have its own pros and cons depending on its ingredients, but it’s important to try them one by one. Two products that are great on their own may be too strong or astringent when combined. If you use both at the same time, it will be impossible to tell whether one or both is not right for you.

We suggest starting with a serum to be massaged into the skin. This should more directly address the underlying issues of dehydration within the stratum corneum. If, on the other hand, you feel that your dry skin results from another condition such as recurring acne, then a toner might be the best bet as it will help you balance out your skin’s pH and reduce patchy oil production.

Unfortunately, some people do suffer from both dry and oily skin, so hydration and sebum (skin oil) control must happen at the same time.

Step 4: Night mask

Night masks are a great way of ensuring recuperation for your skin for hours while you sleep. There are a number of different types, but natural masks, which contain antioxidants and gentle hydrating ingredients, are the choice to go for.

Dry skin dos and don’ts

skin care routine for dry skin dos and don'ts

Now that you know the best skin care routine for dry skin, you will most likely want to add it to your existing skin care regimen. Before you go experimenting, check over this list of dos and don’ts to make sure you’re not heading in the wrong direction.

1. Stop scrubbing

Well, as we have just hinted at, over scrubbing by any means is not a good idea.

Whether with a towel or an exfoliator, scrubbing is likely to irritate and damage dry skin. We understand that if you have flakiness that won’t go away, you will want to get rid of it as soon as possible. However, the best way to do this is with a gentle exfoliator that lifts away dead skin cells from the surface.

The simplest way to identify a harsh exfoliant is by the ingredients. Anything that contains large particles such as groundnuts, microbeads, or similar is not the way to go. Don’t forget as well that harsh stripping chemicals and acids should also be avoided.

2. Bathe with care

Dermatologists tell their patients to use good ‘bathing hygiene.’ Similar to ‘sleep hygiene,’ this means arranging your bath or shower environment to serve the needs of dry skin better. So each time you wash:

  1. Shut that bathroom door and window – this retains hydrating warm moisture in the air
  2. Use warm water, not hot to the touch. We don’t want to irritate the skin
  3. Wash for 10 minutes maximum – aim for an average of 5 minutes
  4. Wash with your hands, not a physical scrubber unless it is very soft
  5. Use fragrance-free cleansers and washes
  6. Limit product use – no thick foams or lathers should be seen
  7. Pat or blot your skin dry – no rubbing with the towel
  8. Moisturize immediately!

3. Cleaning intolerance?

The number of people who think they have inherently dry or sensitive skin is fairly high. What many don’t know is that long-term (over multiple years) use of the same products, whether for hair, skin, or cleaning your clothes, can eventually lead to intolerance.

This includes ingredients in a laundry detergent that have been tested and ‘proven’ as non-irritating. Despite this being true, over time, your body can learn to reject these chemicals and becomes irritated and dry when they are introduced.

Always use hypoallergenic laundry detergent, and if your skin is angry and dry, wear cotton or silk clothing to be kind to your skin.

4. Look out for botanicals

The cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries are always on the lookout for naturally occurring ingredients that can be safely added to new products. While there are a whole host of beneficial extracts that are good for the skin (like Jojoba oil, which both soothes and protects), there are 7 botanical extracts that have been proven to specifically improve the skin barrier.[10]

The skin barrier is the most important part of trying to keep your skin hydrated – without it, even the best treatments would fail quickly. These ingredients aren’t essential as moisturizers help build the barrier back up too, but they are something useful to look out for when looking into a new brand.

These 7 extracts both increase skin hydration and reduce water loss from the skin:

  • Aloe vera (leaf gel),
  • Betula alba (birch bark extract),
  • Helianthus annuus (sunflower oleodistillate),
  • Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s wort extract),
  • Lithospermum erythrorhizon (root extract),
  • Piptadenia colubrina (angico-branco extract) and
  • Simarouba amara (bitter wood extract)

5. No foam, please

Due to the nature of the ingredients that allow them to foam, foaming cleansers are known to damage the very barrier you’re trying to build up in the skin.

The culprit? SLS, also known as Sodium Lauryl Sulphate. This chemical also has a tendency to increase your skin’s pH, pushing it from neutral to a more alkaline state. This promotes the growth of unfriendly bacteria and increases your risk of outbreaks.

Make sure you stick to a cleanser that is focused on natural and gentle ingredients. As you have dry skin, you’ll want to stay far away from cleansers that are aimed at those with oily skin. These products will strip away what little natural oils you have left, increasing flaking and potentially causing breaks in the skin as well.

Cleansers, which also have moisturizing properties, are your best bet, though, of course, you can always supplement with the application of your main moisturizer afterward.

6. Day or night?

If you decide to change up our dry skin routine, keep in mind that the products are split into day and night for a reason. During the day, they were much more likely to be exposed to cold, wind, and UV radiation. Commuting or simply going outside also likely exposes you to environmental pollutants as well.

However, at night, you are much more likely to be indoors in a stable and temperate environment. If you live in a hot country with air-conditioning installed, you need to be careful at night. Spending all day and all night in an air-conditioned room is bad news for dry skin.

Remember that moisturizers are best applied to wet skin, and from the best effectiveness, should also be reapplied throughout the day. If you cannot avoid constantly being in an air-conditioned environment and you find that your dry skin isn’t recovering, try washing your face with water a few times each day and then reapplying a light amount of moisturizer.

Don’t use a cleanser during these extra washers, or you will reverse the hydrating effect you are trying to achieve.

Still frustrated?

kin care routine for dry skin still frustrated?

If you follow our ultimate routine for dry skin and implement our dos and don’ts, the vast majority of people will see a significant improvement in their skin quality, hydration, and health.

If, on the other hand, after a couple of weeks of adhering to our advice, you simply see little to no improvement, you may have an underlying skin condition, which requires the dermatologist’s expert eye and attention.

While it is vital to get the basics right, there are a minority of cases where a prescription-strength moisturizer, ointment, or night cream is the best way to restore the skin to better health.

Conclusion

Proper skin care can seem impossible to attain at times, especially when you suffer from something persistent like dry skin.

There are no magical cures, but by sticking to our recommendations, most people with mild to moderately dry skin should see a significant change. They are happy with the matter of days, if not a week or two.

Do you know someone who experiences dry skin? Why not share this article with them? After all, sharing is caring.

To get the latest specialist and evidence-based advice, sign up for the ZELEN Life Newsletter, which includes our latest findings, which have not been released to a wider audience. Aside from the latest research findings, we regularly send out subscriber-only how-to guides and tips, helping our readers keep their skin at its best.


References

  1. Siddappa K. Dry skin conditions, eczema and emollients in their management. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 2003;69:69-75
  2. Blank IH. Factors that influence the water content of the stratum corneum. J Invest Dermatol 1952; 18: 433-440
  3. Demis DJ. Unit 1-19: Dry skin. In: Clinical Dermatology Twelfth Revision. Edited by Demis, Crounse, Dobson, Mcguine. Harper & Row; Philadelphia, 1985; P1-2.
  4. Imokawa G, Abe A, Jin K, et al. Decreased levels of ceramides in stratum corneum of atopic dermatitis: an etiologic factor in atopic dry skin. J Invest Dermatol 1991; 96: 523
  5. Demis DJ. Unit 1-19: Dry skin. In: Clinical Dermatology Twelfth Revision. Edited by Demis, Crounse, Dobson, Mcguine. Harper & Row; Philadelphia, 1985; P1-2.
  6. Potts RO, Buras EM, Chrishman DA. Changes with age in the moisture content of human skin. J Invest Dermatol 1984; 82: 97.
  7. Potts RO, Buras EM, Chrishman DA. Changes with age in the moisture content of human skin. J Invest Dermatol 1984; 82: 97.
  8. Klingman Am. The Horny layer In: The Epidermis. Edited by Montagna W, Lobitz W.C, JR. Academic press: New York, 1964: P287
  9. Elias PM, Wood LC, Feingold KR. Epidermal pathogenesis of inflammatory dermatosis. Am J Contact Dermat 1999; 10: 119-126.
  10. Casetti, F et al. “Dermocosmetics for dry skin: a new role for botanical extracts.” Skin pharmacology and physiology vol. 24,6 (2011): 289-93. doi:10.1159/000329214

About The Author

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Board-Certified Doctor and Educator

Bachelor of Medicine Bachelor of Surgery MBBS (Cardiff University)

London, United Kingdom

Dr. McKeown is a UK based NHS clinician with over 10 years experience in both hospital medicine and surgery. After an initial career in maxillofacial surgery his focus now lies in elderly care and rehabilitation medicine. A board member for Wadham College of Science, Dr. McKeown is passionate about widening access to both education and healthcare around the world and as a result, outside of his clinical work he spends much of his time either teaching or providing medical consultancy to healthcare startups. Commercially, his interests lie in helping research and promote novel, evidence-based medicines originating from natural sources and processes.

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