You hear experts tell you to drink water to treat dry skin, but does it work? Many people with dry skin are perplexed because they’re drinking plenty of fluids. Right now, it’s the middle of winter and a lot of my dermatology patients have dry skin, even in our relatively mild climate here in Coastal Northern California. Every day, they ask me how their skin can be dry when they are drinking a lot of water.
Unfortunately, drinking water won’t fix dry skin any more than taking a bath will quench your thirst. Your skin is an excellent barrier and hydrating your skin involves changes in your skin care more than increasing the number of glasses of water you drink each day. - Dermatologist and Skin Wellness Expert Dr. Cynthia Bailey
To treat dry skin, you must add and hold water and oil from the outside.
Only the most severe cases of total body dehydration will cause your skin to become dry and limp. This uncommon degree of dehydration is actually a medical emergency.
Dry skin, however, is common. Healthy people who do not have systemic dehydration can - and do - have dry skin. That's because your skin insulates you well, preserving internal water. It's outer layer, however, loses water to the atmosphere, is damaged by harsh soaps and requires moisturizing and care to stay supple and moist. The most fundamental and important aspect of this care comes from the outside, not from drinking a glass of water. That said, drinking water throughout the day has other important health benefits and I strongly advocate it - but not for dry skin treatment.
How to you hydrate dry and dehydrated skin?
Add water to the outer skin layers of the epidermis. These are the dead skin cell layer, called the stratum corneum, and the living layer below filled with squamous keratinocytes cells.
Water is added to these layers when you wet your skin. Bathing actually becomes therapeutic if you moisturize right after you towel off.
- Taking a bath or shower actually adds the water your dry skin needs.
- Applying a moisturizer right after you towel off will trap that moisture and - presto - moist skin!
If you don’t apply a moisturizer after washing your skin then all that water evaporates, leaving you with even dryer skin. I say drier because using soap has removed some of your skin's oils, which are key components of a healthy skin barrier that traps water. The key is the moisturizing step!
The only way to treat dry skin is with hydrating skin care.
Here's how I explain it to my dermatology patients
Step 1: Use your shower or bath to add water to treat dry skin
Take a shower or bath in warm water, not hot, and ideally for 5 or more minutes to load your skin with water. Water temperature is important. To treat dry skin, use warm, not hot, water to bathe.
Washing your skin is just like doing the dishes in that hot water cuts oil better. You don't want your shower or bath to strip your skin's natural insulating oils because this will damage your skin, hinder its ability to hold water and ultimately lead to dry skin. Dr. Bailey
Step 2: Cleanse your skin with mild soap only, use it sparingly and rinse it all off of your skin!
Bathe with only mild soaps and warm water. Strong soaps remove too much of your natural skin oils, just like hot water does. I recommend 2 types of skin cleansers:
- pH balanced skin cleansers that are called SYNDETS, which stands for synthetic detergents and,
- naturally made soaps that still have the natural soap glycerin in them.
Rinse all soap residue off of your skin or else it will continue to pull-out skin oils after your shower or bath. This will lead to dry skin and ultimately a skin irritation that is a type of eczema.
What is a pH balanced SYNDET?
It is a skin cleanser made synthetically that has a slightly acid to neutral pH of around 7. This is thought by help skin maintain the acid mantel which is thought to be important for optimal skin health and to help resist dryness. Skin pH is normally slightly acidic between a pH of 4-6. Using a soap that does not alter this is considered beneficial by many experts. My top choices for pH neutral or slightly acid SYNDETS are:
Extremely Gentle Foaming Facial Cleanser (for sensitive skin)
Triple Action Exfoliating Cleanser (for pore cleaning and skin brightening)
Glycolic Acid Face and Body Cleanser (for skin brightening)
VaniCream Cleansing Bar (for sensitive skin)
What is the best natural soap for dry skin?
Soap is traditionally made from fats and oils which are mixed with lye to create soap and glycerin. Natural soaps typically have an alkaline pH that may be as high as a pH of 10. This can be neutralized somewhat but not entirely. Skin pH will move to become slightly alkaline after contact with alkaline soap and then revert back to a more neutral pH. The concern with a truly natural soap is that repetitive and prolonged exposure to highly alkaline soaps may disrupt the skin's important acid pH mantle.
I am still a huge natural soap fan because natural skin care is a priority of mine. I have my natural soaps made by expert soap makers capable of removing excess alkali to create an entirely natural soap with a pH of about 8. My natural soaps are made with certified organic ingredients and are also fragrance free, making them ideal for sensitive skin and the entire family.
Is there glycerin in natural soap?
Glycerin is a natural product of the soap making process and it is an excellent water binding ingredient. Unfortunately, most commercial soap makers remove the glycerin and sell it for other purposes. My natural soap retains all the natural glycerin to help hold water to your skin. They are made with organic ingredients and are also fragrance free.
Does adding oil or cold cream prevent soap from drying your skin?
In my opinion, no. Adding an oil or ‘cold cream’ to a drying glycerin-poor soap doesn’t compensate to prevent dry skin. Don’t fall for the sales pitches, just find a glycerin rich product.
Additional tips for how to cleanse your skin without drying it out.
Another important tip for preventing dry skin is to just soap up the parts of your skin with excess oil or body odor glands unless you've gotten really dirty. Body odor glands are present in your armpits, groin and buttocks. Feet need a good soaping to remove sweat and germs. Face, scalp, neck, chest and upper back have the highest amount of oil glands. The rest of your skin may get clean enough with the runoff of soapy water from these areas.
The final tip for preventing dry skin when your bathe is to rinse well and remove all the soap residue. If you don't, that soap residue will continue to pull out skin lipids and ultimately damage skin protein - leading to dry and irritated skin!
Step 3: Apply a good moisturizer within 3 minutes after toweling dry after every bath or shower.
Bathing loads your skin with water. Trapping it with a moisturizer is how you treat dry skin. You don’t need a heavy product or thick layer of moisturizer to do the job. You do need a moisturizer that contains water-trapping ingredients, however.
Just cover your skin with a nice, thin layer of really good skin cream or lotion. It traps the water and any oil or lipid ingredients soaks into your skin. This is what moist skin is, really!
What are the best moisturizers for dry skin?
Look for ingredients like botanical oils, ceramides, glycerin, hyaluronic acid and even alpha hydroxy acids. Each of these ingredients has benefit. Pick your product based on your skin type and needs:
Botanical oils soak into skin to replenish or augment natural skin lipids.
Botanical oils often have soothing anti-inflammatory benefits and natural antioxidants and vitamins. Some of my favorite botanical oils include sunflower, shea butter, jojoba oil, coconut oil, avocado oils, sea buckthorn, argan oil and more. I craft my natural lotion and butter with aloe vera instead of water because this ingredient has benefits to heal dry skin also.Natural Face, Hand and Body Lotion
I use this product every day in the morning after a shower and it helps my skin stay moist. Sarah
This is the first skin cream I’ve found that works for my dry skin, that I want to use consistently and that isn’t greasy. Alice M
Face oils can be used alone or a few drops can be mixed with a cream or lotion to boost the botanical oil content. Avoid face oils with heavy fragrance and strong concentrations of essential oils that are allergens. I made my face oil for a friend and it's deeply healing to dryness prone skin. I blended organic kukui, sunflower, jojoba, castor, rosehip, pomegranate, argan, cypress, borage oil and sea buckthorn oil. The formulation helps skin's water holding capacity and augments skin barrier.
Ceramides, squalane and hyaluronic acid are added to pharmaceutical-grade formulations that can heal and deeply hydrate skin.
These ingredients work well for dry skin and are the basis of my Face Creams:Daily Moisturizing Face Cream Dry to Normal Skin.
After years of using high-end French and German skincare products, I finally found the best moisturizer of all and also for half the cost. It's light but highly effective and with zero fragrance. Thanks so much, Dr. Bailey. Frances
Adding an AHA such as glycolic acid to a moisturizer will create an acid pH to support the skin's acid mantle.
It also will help brighten and soften skin, fight skin roughness problems such as keratosis pilaris and crusty age spots, soften wrinkles and help improve pigment skin problems. I love using AHAs for dry skin care for both face and body. I recommend using Glycolic Acid Body Lotion at least twice a week after the bath or shower and using the Natural Lotion or Butter all other days after bathing. My Ultra-Fast Triple Action Body Smoothing Kit has the ideal combination of cleanser and AHA moisturizer for smooth and hydrated skin fast.
My Glycolic Acid Face Cream is the ideal consistency and texture for face moisturizing care. It comes with my Glycolic Acid Face and Body Cleanser in my Facial Glycolic Acid Skin Care Kit that treats dry skin while brightening your complexion.
If your skin is so dry that it’s cracked, itchy or painful then use a moisturizer with soothing water binding ingredients like rich oils, glycerin until it heals.
Acid pH AHAs should only be applied to skin that is not irritated or cracked. Use a moisturizer like my Natural Lotion or Butter until skin is healed. Then begin using an AHA and see how much smoother and hydrated your skin can become.
The Bottom Line for Treating Dry Skin:
You treat dry skin from the outside in. Don’t get me wrong, drinking water is good for your body, so do it. But don’t look for ‘8 glasses of water a day’ to fix your dry skin. Only in the extreme, when a person is massively dehydrated to the point that their level of dehydration is a health risk, will their skin be limp, flaccid, lusterless and dry because they're thirsty. The dry skin that most people suffer from is caused by dryness on the outside and the fix is with the right skin care.