Got dry skin? More moisturizer is not the answer!
At least it's not the ONLY answer. When you're dealing with dryness, there's often more going on than just a lack of product.
In this article, I want to draw your attention to 12 other factors that can be involved in dry skin. (Not including the weather, because there's not much we can do about that!)
You will learn:
- The physiological causes of dryness
- Where you might be going wrong in your routine
- The products that can cause dryness vs. treat it
- How moisturizer can affect your skin long-term
You may just find that you need less cream after addressing some of these!
What Causes Dry Skin
Vitamin A Deficiency
If you're low in vitamin A (and most people probably are!), it can cause skin cells to shed too quickly, resulting in dryness.
This is known as abnormal keratinization, and vitamin A helps by slowing things down, so skin cells function longer before they flake off.
Food sources are always best, and you can find vitamin A in the highest quantities in liver, butter, cream and eggs. Otherwise, there are low-excipient oral supplements such as:
- Vital Proteins Beef Liver Capsules
- Perfect Dessicated Liver
- Genestra A-Mulsion
- BioCare Vitasorb A
- Health Natura Simply A
- BulkSupplements Vitamin A Palmitate Powder
This tutorial goes into detail about vitamin A's function and how to take it safely—also check with your doctor!
Low Thyroid Function
Low thyroid causes dryness (among other skin issues) because of poor circulation, especially in colder weather.
According to Dr. Broda Barnes in his book, Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness:
"In hypothyroid patients, blood circulation through the skin is less than normal at all times and is reduced even further in cold weather since at that time more blood is shifted away from the skin and to the interior of the body in order to preserve body heat."
Keep in mind that it's very possible to be functionally hypothyroid, even if blood tests indicate normal thyroid function. Dr. Barnes (who is considered the pioneer of thyroid research) deemed lab tests "unreliable" and claimed 40 percent of Americans were in fact hypothyroid. That was back in 1976, so imagine how high that number is today!
If you'd like to learn more, his book is an excellent place to start.
If you think dry skin types shouldn't exfoliate, think again.
Dry skin still needs regular gentle exfoliation, in order to remove dead cells. If they remain stuck on the surface, your products won't be able to reach and hydrate the LIVE cells, where they're needed—so you'll just be wasting your time (and product!).
Here are a few of my favourite gentle methods:
- Cleansing brush: Foreo Luna 2 for Sensitive Skin is non-abrasive and hygienic.
- Konjac sponge: These are all-natural sponges that soften in water. Try Boscia Konjac Cleansing Sponge.
- Oil and cloth cleansing: See my tutorial here.
- Gentle BHAs: I like Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask (reviewed here) and Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Serum (see it in my routine here; it's mild enough that you don't need to have acne to use it).
- Lactic acid: This is the mildest AHA, and it's also hydrating. I recommend The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2% or Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 (reviewed here).
Exfoliating Too Much
On the flip side, make sure you're not over-exfoliating, either. I would avoid grainy scrubs and nylon cleansing brushes, which can be too aggressive, drying and irritating.
Obviously, you want to be cautious with acids. (So, Drunk Elephant Babyfacial is probably not for you!) I think mild salicylic or lactic acids are the best choices for dry skin. In general, AHAs are more inflammatory (read more about that here).
How often should you exfoliate? For dry skin, I think three times a week is a good number. As always, it's a matter of self-experimentation to find the product and frequency that works for you.
Many active ingredients, including acids, retinol and vitamin C, can be drying. Even more so if you're using multiples!
I know it's tempting, but you don't have to use every active, all the time, to get results. You can always rotate them at different times of day, on alternate nights, or even by the seasons.
Also consider these alternatives:
- Granactive retinoids: They're less irritating than retinol or prescription retinoids. Find them in The Ordinary Granactive Retinoids in Squalane (reviewed here) and CyberDerm Retin+Erase (reviewed here).
- Vitamin C derivatives: Although they'll do more for brightening than collagen-building, ingredients like ascorbyl glucoside and sodium ascorbyl phosphate are less irritating than L-ascorbic acid. Find them in The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12% (reviewed here) and Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum.
- Niacinamide: This wonder ingredient shouldn't cause irritation at all—in fact, it's great for dryness because it strengthens the skin barrier! It also fights free radicals, and treats pigmentation, acne and wrinkles. I suggest Skin Inc Supplement Bar Vitamin B3+ Serum (see it in my routine here) or Paula's Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster.
Definitely avoid anything with sulfates, which are harsh cleansing agents that irritate and aggravate dryness. The most common ones you'll see on labels are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES).
Some of my favourite sulfate-free cleansers for dry skin include:
- Dr Roebuck's Noosa Nourishing Creme Cleanser
- Naturally Serious Major Moisture Gentle Cream Cleanser
- First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser (reviewed here)
- Schaf Facial Cleanser (see it in my routine here)
- Bioderma Hydrabio H2O (see it in my routine here)
Whatever you use, make sure to thoroughly remove it—even micellar cleansers, I recommend rinsing off with water. Leftover cleanser residue can dry out your skin (not to mention cause breakouts).
They feel so good, but long showers at hot temperatures can cause dry skin on your face (and body!). This is because they strip away our natural protective oils, which allows moisture in the skin to escape.
Washing your face at the sink instead, in lukewarm water, would be a good start. But also keep in mind that water itself can have a drying effect, whether it's hot, warm or cold. So keep that part of your routine quick!
Note: Drinking more water won't hydrate your skin.
Letting Your Skin Dry
Make sure to apply your hydrators right after cleansing, while your skin is still damp.
This is especially important in winter. When the air is dry, it pulls the moisture out of your skin more quickly. This happens as soon as you finish washing your face or step out of the shower—because there's more moisture in your skin than the air!
So you want to trap that water in your skin, before it evaporates and causes dryness. The hydrating serums and essences with the best ingredients include:
- Consonant HydrExtreme (reviewed here)
- Omorovicza Omoressence (see it in my routine here)
- COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence (see it in my routine here)
- The Ordinary Marine Hyaluronics (reviewed here)
More of my favourite hydrating serums here!
Only Using Humectants
Humectants are water-attracting ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin. But on their own, they aren't enough for dry skin.
You need to seal them in with something more emollient or occlusive, like a cream or oil—or both! Some of my top picks include:
- Creams: LXMI Crème du Nil (reviewed here), Odacité Beautiful Day (reviewed here), The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors (reviewed here) or Dr Roebuck's Nuddy Crème
- Squalane oil: Indie Lee, The Ordinary or Biossance (all discussed here)
- Shea butter: LXMI Pure Nilotica Melt
- Coconut oil: RMS Beauty Raw Coconut Cream
- Jojoba oil: MV Skincare Pure Jojoba
- Marula oil: Drunk Elephant or The Ordinary
One intriguing ingredient is snail secretion filtrate, which is both a humectant AND an emollient. You can find it in COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence.
Only Using Oils
Oils lock in existing moisture, but if you don't have enough in your skin to begin with, they won't solve dryness.
(Squalane has a finer molecular structure, so it's a bit of an exception to this rule.)
For dry skin, use a humectant and/or emollient underneath an oil. Again, these would be your serums, essences and creams. I mentioned a few above; here are some more I like:
- Omorovicza Instant Perfection Serum (reviewed here)
- SK-II Facial Treatment Essence
- Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum (see my interview with her here)
- Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum (reviewed here)
Applying Products in the Wrong Order
Apply your products in order of lightest to heaviest texture.
One of the biggest mistakes I hear about is putting oil on too soon. This can prevent other ingredients from penetrating, resulting in dryness.
If you're using any treatment products like niacinamide or vitamin C, those would go on bare skin after cleansing. Next would come your serums or essences; then cream; then oil.
So use your oil last—it will also form a barrier that will help protect you from the elements!
Silicones are present in most beauty products because they're inexpensive and create a silky, supposedly "luxurious" texture. Since they fill in crevices and form a surface seal, it may initially seem like they're effective at moisturizing.
They're not. As I explained here, silicone ingredients don't actually hydrate, they just protect from water loss. What's worse, they may even CAUSE dryness over time, by dehydrating your pores and interfering with cellular renewal processes.
All the products I've mentioned above are silicone-free, but don't forget your makeup! My favourite silicone-free foundations include:
- Sappho New Paradigm Essential Foundation
- RMS Beauty "Un" Cover-Up (see my tutorial here)
- Omorovicza Complexion Perfector
If you're suffering from dryness, I hope these tips get you on your way to moist, dewy, hydrated skin again!
My position is that it's better to address the root causes of dryness, rather than always chasing the problem with moisturizing creams.
In fact, I'm not really a fan of using creams on a long-term basis. Even a well-formulated one could interfere with barrier function and cell renewal by keeping your skin too "wet," according to this study.
So maybe you need one at this point in time, but that may not be the case after you tweak your diet or routine. As I explained here, I don't like boxing people into "skin types." You may have dry skin now, but you're not necessarily destined to have it forever.
Let me know if these tips work for you!
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