If you’ve been following us for some time, you’ll often hear about Gloria’s dry dry skin. Being naturally on the dry side means that your skin is probably the subject of everyone’s envy during the hormonal, acne-prone teenage years. However, before you know it, BAM! Fine lines are sadly ahead of schedule. So let’s take a closer look at the biology of dry skin, how to choose the right products to tackle dry skin, and what are some holy grail ingredients.
My skin is parched! Just what does it mean when skin feels dry?
Let’s start with our SC (stratum corneum aka your horny layer 😏). SC is skin’s outermost layer. It’s mostly fatty, comprised of fatty acids, cholesterol and ceramides. This serves as your first line of defense against outside baddies while keeping water in. Though it is mostly fatty, it still needs a certain amount of water to function properly. This is why your skin has NMFs (natural moisturizing factors) -- molecules that help bind to water and keep it in the SC. Your skin is “dry” when SC water content is low and that water is evaporating and leaving your skin at an abnormally high rate, opening your skin to a whole host of issues such as uneven texture, flaking, itchiness, redness, irritation, and sensitivity.
There are many factors that contribute to skin dryness. Here’s a quick snapshot:
- Inadequate sebum production: Refer back to our oily skin article. Sebum is typically in short supply for those with dry skin… unfortunately that means lower hydration levels and potentially lowered natural antioxidant defense as well.
- Environmental factors: Dry climate, heavily air conditioned rooms, cold windy weather can all lead to a decrease in SC hydration level.
- Low cell turnover: A decrease in SC hydration leads to slower cell turnover, which then leads to dead cells that overstay their welcome… this turns into rough, dull skin with worse skin barrier function and… you guessed it! Further decrease in SC hydration. In short, dry skin purgatory.
Skin barrier damage: When your skin barrier isn’t 100% (a major symptom of eczema), it becomes kinda lousy at keeping water in. This opens your skin to a whole host of issues such as flaking, redness, irritation, and dryness.
Dry skin woes aren't exclusive to those born with naturally drier skin. The reality is everyone is likely to experience dry skin at some point. Hormonal changes, change in environment, stress, medication, just pure aging can all lead to drier skin. But the chemists have your back! Let’s talk about a few product solutions to keep that dry skin at bay.
How to Skincare with Dry skin
The recommendation for all skin types is to choose a cleanser that balances thorough cleansing power and gentleness. This is even more important for those with dry skin. If you’re using a cleanser you think is potentially too gentle, consider amping up cleansing power by double cleansing or using a cleansing brush instead of reaching for a stronger surfactant system. A great starting point is a cleansing oil or cleansing balm, which can serve as a great one-and-dones for dry skin types.
There are two guidelines to remember when it comes to moisturizing your dry skin:
- Layering is your friend: It’s very rare to find a single moisturizer that covers all your needs. Having your humectant (water stuff) specialist or emollient (oils) specialist can help easily integrate some added moisture into your routine for especially dry days.
- Occlusives are your friend!: Occlusives help seal in moisture and keep water from evaporating and leaving your skin, helping your skin do its job better. Look for moisturizers with ingredients such as petrolatum, mineral oil, butters, and waxes to stay moisturized.
There isn’t a particular filter system or set of ingredients that are extra helpful for dry skin. However, this is a category of products that often use drying ingredients you may want to consider avoiding. Two of the most common drying ingredients found in sunscreen are alcohol and oil-absorbing powders (eg. silica, perlite). These are used to help significantly lighten up the texture, but sometimes do their job too well and can make skin feel pretty parched. If you’re having trouble with decoding ingredient lists, consider avoiding products that claim “dry touch” or “matte finish” as they tend to have these drying ingredients.
*A Special PSA on Alcohol: Alcohol is often called out for being too drying. However, it’s definitely not necessary to avoid this ingredient completely. In fact, a little bit of alcohol can freshen up the formula, help active ingredients penetrate better, and preserve your product. If you have dry skin, layering and using a good moisturizer can counter whatever drying power alcohol may have. And of course, always listen to your skin!
Skin Active Ingredients for Dry Skin
Many active ingredients such as retinol or AHAs may make your skin drier. While dry skin doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy these ingredients, remember that the priority is to not further irritate and compromise your skin barrier. Use lower concentrations of these ingredients and keep tabs on how your skin reacts. Trying to tackle pigmentation, wrinkles, elasticity while your skin is parched and skin barrier compromised is just not the most efficient way to skincare.
Dry Skin Superstar Ingredients
Dry skin care requires a well-rounded routine with a good blend of ingredients that offer immediate hydration and long term barrier relief. However, with every product under the sun claiming to be your next hydration holy grail, it can be a bit confusing to put the routine together. Good thing you have us! We’ve broken down great dry skin ingredients into the following categories:
- Humectants: Water-grabbers such as glycerin, NMFs, aloe, and hyaluronic acid help hold water close to skin, a key step to getting your SC hydration level back up. Great as a first step in your routine but absolutely should not be considered the only moisturizing ingredient to use if you have dry skin.
- Occlusives: Finishing your routine with a great occlusive product featuring ingredients such as petrolatum, shea butter, beeswax, lanolin, etc is the best move!
- Barrier Repair/Soothing: Humectants and occlusives are ingredients that offer immediate, daily hydration in your moisturizer. It’s also a good idea to include ingredients that can help correct dry skin in the long run in your routine as well. Barrier care ingredients such as ceramides and niacinamide are great additions. In addition to treating your skin barrier, soothing ingredients such as allantoin and bisabolol to keep irritation at bay is also key. Here’s a refresher if you want to learn more about why soothing ingredients are important sidekicks to your barrier care routine
- Chemical Exfoliants: Slower cell turnover rate is one of the unfortunate effects of chronic dry skin purgatory. Chemical exfoliants such as glycolic, lactic acid can help get your cell turnover rate back on track and keep skin looking healthy and glowing.
- Dry skin is caused by a compromised skin barrier, decreased sebum production, and aggravated by climate and slow cell turnover.
- When moisturizing, get comfortable with layering to cover all your skin needs.
- Niacinamide, ceramides, and soothers are great long term barrier care ingredients!
- When using treatments with high levels of active ingredients, start low and slow to not further irritate and dry out your skin. Skin barrier care should be prioritized before other skin concerns!
Okay that’s great, but now what? I’m still faced with too much info and too many choices??
I have spent so much money on different products over the years that as wonderful and informative as this is, it’s just adding more info and products to the mix. I really want to keep it simple.
Do you ever make specific recommendations for people? For their individual concerns?
Now THAT would be helpful.
Great article, I have dry skin and becomes drier in dry cold weather. Gives me a better idea of what I need to look for in skincare and how to approach, thanks.
Whenever I use HA, I find it seems to be drying. Is there any chance it can “humect” the wrong way?