Beauty Questions About Hydrating Dry Skin?


I received this short email recently from one of my readers: “My skin used to be so oily, I was always complaining about the shine. And now that I’m going through menopause, things have changed. It’s so dry that it feels like my face will crack! I’d like to get some oil back. Any ideas?”

I can relate. My own skin used to be so oily and greasy that I’d never go anywhere without those anti-shine wipes. I swear I kept that company in business. Of course, it was so long ago that I can’t remember the name of the company, but wipes like that are still around, like these. And yes, I should have listened to my grandmother, who, when I complained about my shiny skin, said: “Oil is good for your skin. It keeps away the wrinkles. One day you’re going to miss it!”

If you have dry, sensitive skin, you may be wondering if you’re using the right moisturizer, or if you should switch to an oil, or a balm or maybe a serum? And what’s the best way to exfoliate without causing more irritation? The editors of Goop have you covered with their new Goop Clean Beauty .a thorough guide to looking naturally gorgeous (and the first book from Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand).

“Whether you suffer seasonally or constantly, and whether the problem is severe or mild, arriving at the ultimate regimen that keeps your skin supple, dewy, and comfortable is an achievable goal for most people,” the editors write. But because the causes of dryness and irritation can be so varied, finding the right products for your skin takes some tinkering. In the excerpt below, they outline the essentials elements of a healthy hydration routine, which can be tailored to your own preferences and sensitivities:

The Story.

Here’s what I know. There are lots of products out there that promise to treat dry skin.

The Details.

One helpful tip to keep in mind, from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) is this:

Use only gentle, unscented skin care products. Some skin care products are too harsh for dry, sensitive skin. When your skin is dry, stop using skin care products that contain alcohol, fragrance, retinoids or alpha-hydroxy acid (AHAs). Avoiding these products will help your skin retain its natural oils.


I recently came across a product called Bio-Oil. It should be called Everything-Oil, because (short of using it to cook, maybe), it can be used for so many things, including the body, face, hair and brown spots. Moisture. Smoothness. Relief from dry skin. It’s got it all.

So, what’s all the fuss about?

  • It has a light texture.
  • It’s non-greasy.
  • It absorbs rapidly.
  • It contains natural botanical extracts like calendula, chamomile, lavender and rosemary.
  • And it contains vitamins A and E, which can nourish and treat aging and dehydrated skin.


How you cleanse your skin both face and body is an essential factor to look at if you are struggling with dry or sensitive skin. Pretty much anything that foams or lathers is your enemy. Lather = detergent, in most cases. Conventional “moisturizing” body washes, for example, combine moisturizing ingredients with detergents (not to mention perfumes, which can further irritate and dehydrate) which can spell serious trouble for dry skin.

Consider oil, cream, or balm cleansers (natural, clean ones are much more likely to include only moisturizing ingredients as opposed to fillers and texturizers), and consider cleansing less. Your skin isn’t dirty when you wake up in the morning so don’t bother disrupting it with cleansing. If you must cleanse in the morning, finish immediately with an oil or moisturizer. In the shower, cleansing oils or creams are ideal, and a super-gentle (the gentle is important), very oily scrub can lightly exfoliate and moisturize all at once.


How thick a cream or lotion is often indicates how moisturizing it is. But what you see isn’t always what you get. Conventional moisturizers can appear thick, but much of that richness might be added fillers and texturizers. Silicones are particularly deceptive, they add nothing to the actual hydrating power of a moisturizer, but are used to make products feel more moisturizing, blend-able, and comforting.

Another extremely common texture-enhancer, propylene glycol (a.k.a. antifreeze), makes products feel softer and gentler, but does nothing to actually nourish or help skin. Conversely, there are ultra-hydrating serums that feel like practically nothing on the skin. Still, in general and especially when you’re working with clean, nontoxic products, thicker is a fairly reliable indication of more moisturizing power.

Applying moisturizers or any products, really when your skin is wet is a good idea for two reasons, the obvious being that it seals in the water that’s on your skin. But the more important aspect is that wet skin is more porous, so treatment ingredients in this case, hydrators can penetrate into deeper layers of the skin, where they can do the most good.

In addition to moisturizers, there are a handful of other classes of products that deliver the same results. Below we outline the philosophy behind using balms, oils, cream, lotions, and serums:

Why use a balm

The thickest, most skin-coddling, nourishing option in moisturizing, your average balm is not something you’re going to want to put on under makeup: A good one is thick, occlusive, and super-healing. Most balms are nicely multipurpose and great on skin, but also lips, and on dry or rough spots all over the body. You can also use them over sunblock in extreme weather situations like skiing.

Why use an oil

Oils are the original moisturizer; women have been using them for centuries. They vary in texture, depending on the type of oil, so definitely experiment with a few before deciding yea or nay. You can use an oil just like a regular moisturizer, though they generally take a few minutes to sink in enough to apply makeup over. Apply face and/or body oils as often as your skin seems to like. You can use body oil in your bath instead of products labeled “bath oil,” which, especially in the world of conventional beauty products, mix oil with detergents to make the oil disperse evenly.

Why use a cream

One of the serious advantages of a nice, rich face or body cream is the texture. A cream distributes moisture more evenly than other products and it lasts longer on the skin than your average oil or even balm. Creams are also fantastic for sealing in an oil or a serum.

Why use a lotion

Some people don’t like the feeling of a heavy cream on their faces; lotions are generally lighter. They can be a little less moisturizing, but not necessarily. The key is, if you love a lighter texture, pick a lotion and use it as often as necessary. If you enjoy the experience, you’ll stick to it.

Why use a serum

The light texture of most serums means that, for the most part, they’re less moisturizing. While there are exceptions to that rule, think of most serums as the best way to deliver active ingredients (i.e., brighteners or firming or anti-wrinkle ingredients). Most people with any sort of dry skin issue are going to want to layer a moisturizer or oil over a serum.

Try these six tips to soothe your dry skin.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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%.

Q: I have very dry skin in the winter. I get cuts and scratch marks on my legs because they itch so much. What can I do?

Top Picks From Los Angeles Dermatologist Emma Taylor:

Heaters and prolonged hot showers are the biggest culprits when it comes to dry skin. Both can deplete the skin of its natural moisture, even more than cold temperatures. And no matter how much water you drink, it probably won’t be enough to rehydrate your skin. For starters, invest in a humidifier, which helps bring moisture into heated homes.

Beyond that, one of the most important things you can do in the winter is use a nondrying wash like Dove Visible Care Renewing Crème Body Wash, and shorten your shower to three minutes max or bathe in lukewarm water.

Next, apply body lotion try Aveeno Active Naturals Daily Moisturizing Lotion immediately after showering or bathing while the skin is still damp. This helps lock in moisture and boost reabsorption. If you’re eczema-prone in the winter, seek out thicker creams or ointments those like Aquaphor Healing Ointment for lips are more moisturizing than creams like L’Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream, which are more moisturizing than lotions. Choose the richest formula your skin can tolerate, and apply it to your body religiously to maintain a healthy skin barrier.

Top Picks From Miami Cosmetic Dermatologist Marianna Blyumin-Karasik: 

Cold wind and reduced humidity can lead to dehydrated skin, which shows up as flaking and itching. Not switching up your products throughout the year can further irritate your skin.

To combat dryness on your face, use a soap like Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, which has fewer potent surfactants (detergents and foaming agents that can strip skin of its moisture)andmore replenishing emollients. You may want to ease up on exfoliating face cleansers and toners. These are often too rough for the skin in the winter so aim for something gentler and look for ingredients like jojoba beads on the label.

Consider adding a nightly cream or lotion to the mix to replenish hydration and reduce irritation while you sleep. For day, stock up on hydrating creams and lotions that contain moisture-locking ingredients such as ceramides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid, and use every day. Try Eucerin

Anti-Wrinkle Sensitive Skin Creme.

No matter what, it’s best to apply face and body moisturizer twice a day during the winter — in the morning after showering and before bed.

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