How to Choose the Best Moisturizer for Your Dry Skin
Learn how to choose the best moisturizer for your dry skin, three ingredients every dry skin lotion should have and six steps for smooth, supple skin.
Being a conscientious hand washer almost guarantees dry skin. Cold weather does, too. So what’s the best way to stay supple and smooth despite good hygiene and the elements?
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“If you consistently moisturize, then your skin should be OK,” says dermatologist Alejandra Estemalik, MD. “Especially if you have atopic dermatitis or eczema, the consistent use of moisturizer will reduce symptoms, symptom frequency and disease flares.”
But with thousands (or possibly millions?) of skincare products promising your best skin ever, which one is right for you? Dr. Estemalik does a deep dive into moisturizers: how to choose the best moisturizer for dry skin, how to apply it and other ways to love the skin you’re in.
While everyone’s skin is different, we all have some common enemies:
Low humidity in the air — more common during winter — can dry out your skin. “Skin is drier and therefore more sensitive during colder months,” notes Dr. Estemalik. “Summer sun decreases inflammation, so you’re less dry and itchy when it’s warm.”
A shower a day — the staple of American life — may actually too often. According to the American Academy of Dermatology a bath every other day may be sufficient for children. “For adults, the recommendation depends on your activity level, if you are not that active it’s okay to cut a couple showers a week” says Dr. Estemalik.
Over-showering is counterproductive: Water strips the skin of its protective barrier — the natural oils that keep irritants out and hydration in. And scalding hot showers worsen the situation by evaporating even more moisture from the skin.
“Your skin barrier can eventually develop little micro irritations, which accumulate over days and months. This leads to dry, cracked skin that’s more likely to develop rashes and skin infections,” Dr. Estemalik says.
“Your skin becomes more vulnerable to potential allergens, irritants and pathogens, including viruses and bacteria like staphylococcus. That’s also why over-washing makes kids with eczema more prone to warts and viral skin infections,” she adds.
All those oh-so-sweet-smelling perfumes in your lotion for dry skin? They’re called fragrances, and Dr. Estemalik says their makers have duped you.
“It’s so hard to convince my patients about this, but when you apply a fragrance product on your skin, especially if you have sensitive skin, it eventually causes inflammation because it’s a skin allergen. And inflammation leads to flakiness and itchiness.”
Plant-derived, “all natural” and “organic”, botanicals are thought to be better for your skin because they’re found in nature. But as Dr. Estemalik notes, so is poison ivy. “Fragrance is like sugar. We all crave it but it’s bad for our skin.”
Because ingredient lists are often miles-long and American manufacturers aren’t required to tell all, it can be hard to know if your favorite moisturizer contains allergenic fragrances or botanicals. But Dr. Estemalik says to watch out for ingredients such as:
“We even see botanicals in products advertised as fragrance-free. People think that fragrance-free means hypoallergenic. But if the moisturizer contains any of these botanical products, it’s definitely not hypoallergenic,” adds Dr. Estemalik.
Go ahead and blame your dry skin on Grandpa Bill. He most likely passed it down to you. Age is also a factor, as changes to aging skin can make it drier, too.
In addition to being hypoallergenic and fragrance- and botanical-free (affordable would be nice, too), Dr. Estemalik says the ideal moisturizer should be able to maintain the skin’s barrier function by containing these three things:
Humectants hydrate your skin by:
Effective humectants include:
Occlusives work in tandem with humectants. They kick it up a notch, preventing moisture loss so your skin stays hydrated longer.
Look for ingredients such as:
Emollients act like asphalt patches on a road of potholes: They fill in the cracks that dryness causes, smoothing and softening your skin. Emollients can also be occlusives, so get a twofer by choosing a moisturizer with:
Other beneficial ingredients include:
To find the best moisturizer for your body, follow these tips:
Dr. Estemalik’s recommendations for body moisturizer:
“Face moisturizers need to be noncomedogenic, which means non-acne causing. The face is also oilier and has thinner skin than the body, which makes it more sensitive,” explains Dr. Estemalik. “A good facial moisturizer should be a bit lighter. A gel or lotion is generally better for the face unless you have really dry skin.”
Dr. Estemalik also recommends using a moisturizer with SPF year-round on your face and hands. “I like moisturizers that have a mineral SPF in it, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.”
For your hands, Dr. Estemalik says you should choose moisturizers that contain the emollient dimethicone. Dimethicone is a type of silicone that retains moisture.
CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream, La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Mains Barrier Repairing Cream, Avène Cicalfate Hand Cream.
You’ve got the moisturizer. Now how do you use it? Surprisingly, there’s more to it than “just slather it on.” Dr. Estemalik recommends these steps: