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Dry Skin Care Tips

By Cynthia Bailey MD. This page was updated on Thu, Nov 12, 2015

Effective Dry Skin Treatment

Are you plagued by dry skin? Simple changes in your skin care routine may be all you need to combat dry skin. Don't be fooled by all of the advertising and hype surrounding popular and mass marketed skin care products. Let me share what I've learned in my 35 years of practicing dermatology in California, and honed from my personal experience battling dry skin myself in our arid climate.

Dry Skin Care Tips

All dry skin has a damaged skin barrier. Once your skin barrier is damaged:

  1. Skin moisture is constantly lost (called transepidermal water loss)
  2. Exposure to harsh soaps, solvents, and chemicals continues to dissolve skin lipids
  3. Harsh weather pulls water out of damaged skin

Dry skin gets worse and worse until you intervene.

Whether you were born with a fragile skin barrier or you damaged it by exposure to harsh elements the dryness and irritation look the same; first skin becomes rough and scaly as dryness worsens skin starts to itch then hurt. Tender cracks form, skin fluids start to leak out, and skin infection can develop.

Discover Simple, Yet Effective Solutions

The solution to healing dry skin is so simple. Unfortunately, most people get their advice from the information provided by skin care product advertisers – and this leads to confusion. For years, I have seen patients in my dermatology practice who have made product choices that make the problem worse because they believed what they read on a product’s advertisement. The information here is what dermatologists know about dry skin. It will put you on the right track to heal your dry skin because you too will understand the cause, which will allow you to create the fix.

Here is what you need to do to treat dry skin:

  • First, stop all exposure to harsh soaps and skin cleansers, solvents, weather, etc
  • Second, apply moisturizers that lock in moisture and prevent water evaporation, so that your skin barrier can heal

It really is that simple. However, as you will see, the "devil is in the details."

First, let's dispel one very popular myth. Contrary to popular belief, dry skin has nothing to do with failing to drink enough water. The water you drink does not get to the outer surface of your skin where dryness occurs. That would be like thinking that taking a bath quenches your thirst – it just does not happen. Your inner hydration level and your skin hydration level are not the same. Only in the most severe dehydration is loss of skin turgor (flacid dryness) seen, and that is not the dryness people refer to when they have dry skin. Dry skin is due to skin barrier damage with loss of the micro elements of skin moisture.

Follow this Step-by-Step Treatment to Heal Dry Skin

Step 1:Stop damaging your skin’s barrier

Be sure to avoid:

  • Harsh skin cleansing
  • Exposure to solvents and chemicals that pull important skin lipids (natural oils) from your skin
  • Harsh weather

Wash only with the right gentle cleanser.

  • Choose pH balanced soapless cleansers like Extremely Gentle Foaming Facial Cleanser, Vaniceam Cleansing Bar or other soapless cleansers.

    Extremely gentle pH balanced facial cleanser helps to safely wash your skin.These are pH balanced products that help irritated skin heal.vanicream cleansing bar for dry skin care A word of caution, some soapless cleansers contain foaming agents like the sodium lauryl sulfate family of ingredients.

    These are known skin irritants used in experimental  studies to create skin irritation! If it sounds like “lauryl" or "laureth” and “sulfate” move onto another product when you have dry and barrier-damaged skin.

    This ingredient makes lovely foam, but it is too irritating to use on damaged skin.


  • If you want a natural cleanser, use one that retains the natural glycerin created in the soap making process.

    Best organic and natural shower gel for dry sensitive skin

    Options include 100% Natural Invigorating Shower Gel, 100% Natural Ultra-Hypoallergenic Shower Gel, Naturally Best Bar Soap for Dry Skin, and All Natural Foaming Liquid Hand Soap. Other options include the many glycerin cleansers made.

    These, too, are economical and gentle skin cleansers.

  • Avoid fragrances in products for your dry skin. Even natural fragrances can enter dry skin and cause allergy and irritation.dermatologist's natural all purpose bar soap for dry sensitive skinBest hand soap for dry sensitive hands

Avoid harsh skin cleansing practices.

  • Avoid exposing dry skin to hot water. Even a gentle cleanser isn’t enough, you need to control the water temperature used to cleanse dry skin. Use warm to cool water, NOT hot water. Remember that hot water strips oils, which is why it is better for cleaning oily pots and pans. You must protect your precious skin oils from over-cleansing, and that means you should not expose your skin to hot water until skin dryness and barrier strength have healed.


  • Rinse off all cleanser entirely from your skin. Take the time to remove all soap residue, even from gentle cleansers. Cleanser residue will continue to dissolve skin oils if you leave it on your skin. It is why dry hand problems often start between the fingers where cleanser is often not rinsed well.

Protect skin by wearing gloves and protective clothing.

  • Exposure to harsh solvents, house cleaning products, harsh windy and cold weather, and other elements that strip skin moisture and oil will all further damage dry skin.
  • Wear gloves, face mufflers, and other clothing to protect dry skin from the elements until your skin has fully healed.

Step 2: Apply moisturizers that hold skin moisture inside the layers of your skin

Always apply a really good moisturizer within three minutes of washing skin and toweling it dry. This is the absolute best way to hydrate your skin because when exposed to water, your damaged dry skin will imbibe water. Locking that water in with the moisturizer catapults your skin into healing. Always, always, always do this. You can also apply moisturizer to dry skin that has not been recently washed but it is not nearly as healing.

Choose products that are not mostly water but instead contain mostly water-binding and trapping ingredients. These include:

  • Oils (My preferences include botanical oils that contain healing properties of their own like coconut, avocado, apricot, olive, sunflower oil, shea butter, jojoba oil, etc. Petrochemical oils such as mineral oil and petrolatum have great scientific evidence as healing moisturizers too.)
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Glycerin
  • Components of the skin’s natural moisturizing factor (NMF) such as sodium PCA
  • Urea
  • Ceramids

Once dryness and irritation have healed, your skin barrier can be additionally enhanced with the use of alpha hydroxyl acids such as glycolic acid and lactic acid moisturizers.

How long does it take dry skin to heal?

Weeks to months! Yep, you need to take good care of your skin for up to two months or more depending on the depth and extent of the damage. This is because you need to:

  • Stop the damage
  • Allow the inflammation to subside
  • Allow the top two barrier layers to repair and to remake themselves with all the structural integrity of healthy skin.

That doesn’t happen in a matter of days. Yes, your symptoms may improve, but know that you need to keep up the good work for months. Then, once healed, don’t slide back into whatever caused the dryness in the first place. Keep using the good skin care routine and your healthy skin may be able to hold up to warm water and the occasional soapy dish duty without gloves. Just keep up the moisturizing and gentle cleansing and your skin may provide you with the good barrier work that nature intended for it.

What are the products and care that Dr. Bailey has created for dry skin and that she uses in her practice and for her own family?

Based on the best science and thebest ingredients, Dr. Bailey has created skin care routines that work year after year in her practice. These are not expensive products; they are smart products.

Facial Care for Dry Skin

You can combat dry facial skin by using the following products.


Extremely Gentle Facial Cleanser Vanicream Cleansing Bar Naturally Best Bar Soap



Daily Facial Moisturizer for Dry to Normal Skin Daily Facial Moisturizer for Oily to Normal Skin All Natural Face and Body Lotion All Natural Face and Body Butter Suntegrity 5 in 1 BB Cream SPF 30

Hand Care

Help relieve hand dryness with these products.


All Natural Foaming Hand Soap




Dry Skin Hand Cream All Natural Face and Body Lotion All Natural Face and Body Butter Dry Skin Hand Kit

Body Care

You can help keep the moisture in your skin by using the following products.


Ultra-hypoallergenic Shower Gel Vanicream Cleansing Bar Naturally Best Bar Soap


All Natural Face and Body Lotion All Natural Face and Body Butter Vanicream Please note that if your skin is severely inflamed, weeping, and possibly infected, you may need topical cortisone creams and antibiotics, so please see your personal dermatologist for advice.


Verdier-Sévrain S, Bonté F. Skin hydration: a review on its molecular mechanisms. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2007 Jun;6(2):75-82.

Rawlings AV, Harding CR. Moisturization and skin barrier function. Dermatol Ther. 2004;17 Suppl 1:43-8.

Lodén M. Role of topical emollients and moisturizers in the treatment of dry skin barrier disordersm, Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003;4(11):771-88.

Imokawa G. Stratum corneum lipids serve as a bound-water modulator. J Invest Dermatol. 1991 Jun;96(6):845-51.

Cho HJ. Quantitative study of stratum corneum ceramides contents in patients with sensitive skinJ Dermatol. 2011 Oct 31.