From Flaky to Fresh: Transform Dry Skin with These Must-Have Creams & Lotions

From Flaky to Fresh: Transform Dry Skin with These Must-Have Creams & Lotions


Dry skin, also known as xerosis, is a common skin condition characterized by a lack of moisture in the skin. It can affect people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. Dry skin occurs when the skin lacks sufficient moisture and oil, resulting in tightness, itching, flaking, cracking, and even inflammation or bleeding.

There are many causes of dry skin, including cold weather, over-bathing, aging, and certain medical conditions. Left untreated, dry skin can worsen and lead to further complications. Fortunately, with the right skin care regimen and lifestyle changes, it is possible to improve and manage dry skin.

In this article, we will cover the leading causes, symptoms, and risk factors for dry skin. We'll then provide tips and recommendations on the best moisturizers, cleansers, and other products to use for dry, sensitive skin types. We'll also outline an effective daily skin care routine. Finally, we'll discuss when it's advisable to see a dermatologist for very dry, cracked, or irritated skin. Our goal is to provide helpful, practical information so those with dry skin can restore comfort, hydration, and smoothness to their skin.

Causes of Dry Skin

Dry skin can be caused by various factors including weather, age, genetics, and health conditions.

  • Weather/Environment: Low humidity, harsh winds, and cold temperatures can strip moisture from skin leading to dryness. Dry indoor heating during the winter can also dehydrate skin.

  • Age: Skin naturally loses lipids and moisture as it ages. Older adults tend to have drier skin than younger people. The skin's ability to retain moisture declines with age.

  • Genetics: Some people are just genetically predisposed to having drier skin types. Eczema and other skin conditions can run in families.

  • Health Conditions: Certain medical conditions like hypothyroidism, diabetes, psoriasis, and malnutrition can cause chronically dry skin. Some medications like diuretics, antihistamines, or retinoids may have drying side effects as well.

Signs and Symptoms of Dry Skin

Dry skin can manifest in various ways. Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Tightness - Dry skin often feels tight and stretched, especially after bathing or showering when moisture has been stripped away. The skin may look taut and stiff.

  • Flakiness - Flakes of dry skin can appear on the surface, especially on the arms, legs, and torso area. These flakes can be white or grayish in color.

  • Itchiness - Dehydrated skin can become very itchy, especially in cold winter weather when the air lacks moisture. Scratching often makes the itchiness worse.

  • Rough patches - Patches of dry, rough skin can develop, especially on elbows and knees. The skin may look reddened and feel like sandpaper in these areas. Cracked skin can also occur.

  • Visible scaling on the skin - In severe cases, the dryness causes the outer layer of skin to scale visibly. This can create a flaky, ashy appearance.

Paying attention to these common dry skin symptoms helps identify the problem early so you can take steps to add moisture back into the skin. Don't ignore these warning signs.

Lifestyle Tips

One of the easiest ways to mitigate the symptoms of dry skin is to adjust certain lifestyle habits.

  • Use lukewarm water instead of hot water for baths, showers and face rinsing, especially during winter months. Hot water removes natural oils and moisture from the skin, exacerbating dryness.
  • Limit bath time to no more than 5 to 10 minutes to prevent further drying out skin. Take short showers when possible and turn the temperature down to warm, not hot.
  • Apply a moisturizer immediately after washing your face or body, while the skin is still damp. This traps the moisture in and allows the moisturizer to absorb better.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture back into the indoor air during the winter. This will help prevent dehydration of the skin.
  • Avoid harsh soaps or surfactants that strip the skin of oils. Opt for mild, hydrating cleansers that do not strip skin's acid mantle.

Moisturizers for Dry Skin Treatment

Moisturizers play a key role in treating dry skin and preventing moisture loss. There are three main classes of moisturizers to look for in skin care products:

Occlusives (e.g. Petrolatum)

Occlusive ingredients like petrolatum (petroleum jelly) help prevent moisture from escaping the skin by creating a breathable seal over the skin barrier. This keeps the underlying layers of skin from losing moisture to the environment. Vaseline, Aquaphor, and Cerave Healing Ointment are examples of occlusive products that help dry skin.

Emollients (e.g. Ceramides)

Emollient ingredients, like ceramides and fatty acids, fill in cracks and rough spots on the skin's surface to smooth and hydrate dry patches. Products with ceramides help replenish the skins natural moisturizing factors that can become depleted with dry skin. Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream and CeraVe Moisturizing Cream are two examples of ceramide-based moisturizers for dry skin relief.

Humectants (e.g. Glycerin)

Humectants like glycerin, urea, and hyaluronic acid attract and bind water molecules from the air and deeper skin layers to moisturize dry skin. These should typically be paired with emollients and occlusives for deeper and longer lasting hydration. Neutrogena Hydro Boost and First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream are two highly rated glycerin-based moisturizers for dry skin.


Cleansers for dry skin should be gentle and non-drying. Avoid harsh bar soaps or foaming cleansers containing sulfates, which can strip the skin's natural oils and worsen dryness. According to experts, the best cleansers for dry skin are creamy, gel, or oil-based cleansers that contain ceramides, glycerin, or other hydrating ingredients.
These cleansers cleanse without compromising the skin's protective barrier. Ingredients like ceramides help reinforce lipid barriers on the surface and attract moisture. Glycerin aids in drawing water to the skin's surface and sealing hydration in. Look for hydrating cleansers from brands like CeraVe, La Roche-Posay, Cetaphil, Caudalie, Kate Somerville, Tatcha and First Aid Beauty. When cleansing, water should be lukewarm - not hot - and its best to rinse by gently patting skin with a towel instead of rubbing vigorously.

Other Key Ingredients

Some key ingredients to look for in skin care products that can provide hydration for dry skin include:

  • Hyaluronic Acid: Hyaluronic acid is a substance that occurs naturally in the skin which helps to retain moisture. Using skin care products containing hyaluronic acid can help provide extra hydration. Look for serums and moisturizers with hyaluronic acid, especially if your skin is feeling parched.

  • Aloe Vera: Aloe vera gel has a soothing, cooling effect and is rich in antioxidants. It can help calm inflammation while providing moisture to the outer layer of skin. Aloe works well for sensitive skin prone to irritation. Choose aloe-based gels and creams.

  • Shea Butter: Shea butter is an ultra-hydrating plant oil derived from the nuts of the shea tree. It has a smooth texture that melts into skin to create a protective moisture barrier. The concentration of fatty acids and vitamins A and E make it deeply nourishing for very dry skin. Opt for thick creams and lotions containing shea.

Skin Care Routine

Establishing a consistent daily skin care routine is key for managing dry skin. The following three steps provide a simple yet effective routine:

  1. Cleanse - Use a gentle, hydrating cleanser that won't strip the skin. Opt for creamy, milky cleansers rather than foaming cleansers.
  2. Treat - Apply any targeted treatment products like serums or essences. Focus on ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides that provide deep hydration and strengthen the skin barrier. Tip: Apply treatments to damp skin to help seal in moisture.
  3. Moisturize - This is the most critical step. Choose a rich moisturizer and apply it while your skin is still damp. Look for moisturizers with occlusive ingredients like petrolatum or shea butter to prevent moisture loss. If your skin is very dry, you may need to apply multiple layers of moisturizer or use an overnight mask for added hydration while you sleep.

The "cleanse, treat, moisturize" order ensures you are locking hydration into the skin and preventing moisture loss by applying moisturizer last. Layering hydrating products amplifies their effects so your skin stays well hydrated.

When to See a Dermatologist

If over-the-counter products like moisturizers, cleansers, and creams containing hyaluronic acid or glycerin don't help relieve your dry skin, it's a good idea to make an appointment with your dermatologist. There could be an underlying skin condition or health issue causing your symptoms.

A dermatologist can run tests to diagnose the root cause, whether it's eczema, psoriasis, thyroid disorders, or vitamin deficiencies. They may also examine your medications to see if any side effects are contributing.

Getting a professional diagnosis is key, as the right treatment depends on the cause. For example, prescription steroid creams are often prescribed for eczema while vitamin supplements may help nutritional deficiencies.

Your dermatologist can also assess your overall skin health and determine if your dryness has led to any cracks, fissures or openings that could risk infection. They may recommend customized prescription creams and ointments with stronger moisturizing and healing properties.

It's important not to neglect worsening dry skin. Following your dermatologist's treatment plan can help get it under control, prevent complications, and improve appearance and comfort. Consistent care is essential, so be sure to keep all follow up appointments.


Key Takeaways

In summary, dry skin is a common issue that can happen due to many factors, including weather changes, not drinking enough water, overusing irritating skin care products, conditions like eczema, and aging. Typical dry skin signs are flaky, itchy, scaly skin that may crack and peel.

The best skin care for dry skin focuses on adding moisture back and protecting the skin's natural moisture barrier. Key ingredients to look for are humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, emollients like ceramides and plant oils, and occlusive ingredients like petrolatum. Using a gentle cleanser without sulfates and alcohol is also important.

A good skin care routine incorporates hydrating serums, rich non-comedogenic moisturizers, and products with ceramides. Apply moisturizer within a few minutes of cleansing while the skin is still damp. Using humidifiers, limiting hot showers, staying hydrated, and applying moisturizer to damp skin after washing hands helps combat dryness as well. See a dermatologist for prescription options if over-the-counter products don't provide enough relief.

Shopping for Products

Consulting a dermatologist for personalized recommendations is also advised. When purchasing products, look for fragrance-free, non-comedogenic formulas from reputable brands like Serene Calm, CeraVe, First Aid Beauty, and La Roche Posay. Compare ingredients lists and read reviews to gauge efficacy. With consistent use of thoughtful skin care choices, dryness can be managed for supple, comfortable skin.