May 15, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty

7 Tips for Treating Dry Skin on Your Face

Deal with dry skin by preserving your skin’s moisture, using moisturizing products and taking preventive action

Person holding jar of moisturizer, with moisturizer on fingers

Dry skin can be a nuisance. It can be painful, itchy and flake off on your clothing. Or it may be red and scaly, causing you to feel embarrassed. And when you have dry skin on your face — where all the world can see it — you may be especially motivated to treat it.

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Dry skin can happen to anyone, at any age and for any number of reasons, says dermatologist Jennifer Lucas, MD. But with a couple of skin care tips and some small changes to your daily routine, you can improve your skin’s moisture and prevent dry skin from coming back.

Dr. Lucas explains why dry skin happens and what you can do to take care of it (gently).

Common causes of flaky, dry skin on the face

One cause of dry skin is aging. Your skin naturally loses moisture as you age. So by around age 60, most people have dry skin.

But there are several reasons you may experience dry skin at younger ages, including:

How to get rid of dry skin on your face

Whether your skin has a couple of dry patches or feels like the Sahara Desert, you can improve the situation. The goals of dry skin treatment are to:

  • Soothe your skin.
  • Replenish your skin’s moisture.
  • Prevent dry skin from coming back.

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The treatment needed to improve dry skin can vary depending on how dry it is and the cause. Dr. Lucas typically recommends these steps:

1. Preserve your skin’s existing moisture

Your skin’s moisture naturally diminishes as you age. The amount of oil (sebum) your skin produces drops dramatically around age 40. That’s why retaining the moisture your skin produces is critical at any age — especially when you have a dry complexion.

To hold on to your skin’s moisture:

  • Don’t use hot water, which can be drying, when showering or washing your face.
  • Avoid rubbing or scrubbing your skin, which can strip your skin of its top layer of moisture.
  • Stay away from products that dry out skin, such as retinol and astringent toners. If anti-aging products like retinol are part of your regimen, you may need to counteract its drying properties by coupling with products that add moisture, such as hyaluronic acid.

“Taking even small steps, like using cooler water whenever possible, can help soothe dry skin and go a long way toward helping retain the skin’s moisture,” Dr. Lucas says.

2. Add moisture daily

Moisturizing multiple times daily is key to reducing and preventing dry skin on your face. Follow a skin care routine and apply moisturizer immediately — within five minutes — after washing your face.

For an added benefit, Dr. Lucas recommends choosing a moisturizer that contains ingredients like:

  • Ceramides, which are fatty molecules that strengthen your skin’s protective barrier.
  • Hyaluronic acid, a substance that’s naturally found in your body tissue but lessens with age and environmental factors.
  • Squalane, an oily compound found in humans, animals and plants that can help soothe inflammation and redness while boosting moisture.

“There are a lot of fancy products out there, but you just need a moisturizer that gives you back some of the moisture your skin naturally loses,” she adds. “You can find products with these ingredients right in the drugstore.”

For severe dry spots, add immediate moisture with a petroleum jelly-based product. Dab it gently on your dry spot before bed, and it can help replenish moisture quickly. If your entire face feels dry, you may want to try slugging — slathering your whole face with a thin layer of petroleum jelly. If you notice that you start to get pimples with this regimen, you may need to discontinue or limit its use.

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3. Care for dry skin gently

When you see dry skin, your first instinct may be to exfoliate and remove the flakiness. But be careful, warns Dr. Lucas. Many exfoliation products can do more harm than good.

“A lot of times, you’re stripping away what you think is dry skin,” she says. “But it takes off more than you expected. Now, you have to heal the newly damaged skin. If you continue to exfoliate, you may be setting yourself up for a very repetitive (and irritating) cycle.”

Dry skin is extra sensitive, so take a gentle approach. Pat your skin dry and use a soft touch when washing and moisturizing.

4. Consider the products you use on your face

Whether you have chronic dry skin or just noticed a new dry patch, look closely at the products you use on your face and the ingredients in those products. And don’t just look at your moisturizer and cleanser, advises Dr. Lucas. Makeup and shampoo can also cause dry skin.

On the skin care front, be sure to choose products made specifically for the face. Those products should be fragrance-free, which is different from being unscented. Unscented products often still contain the same irritating chemicals as fragrant products.

“To prevent the signs of aging, we often turn to retinol. But this may dry out your skin,” Dr. Lucas says. “Try to find the balance between products that keep you youthful and those that keep your skin moisturized. Some products, like those containing hyaluronic acid, can counterbalance the dryness of retinol.”

5. Protect your skin from the elements

It doesn’t matter whether your climate is sunny and hot or gray and cold. Keeping your skin safe from damaging weather and environmental dangers is crucial.

Your skin can sustain damage and dry out with exposure to:

“Make smart skin choices when you’re younger to avoid having dry skin when you’re older. Protect your skin and avoid damaging UV rays,” Dr. Lucas says. “No matter where you live, choose a daily moisturizer that contains sunscreen. And be sure to shield your skin from the sun and cold air.”

6. Repair previous skin damage

Scaly, dry skin is often the result of a lifetime of skin damage from UV rays and harsh products.

“As we age, the damage builds up,” Dr. Lucas explains. “There are things we can do to treat mature skin, but those treatments typically require the care of a dermatologist.”

Treatments for damaged skin include:

“There are many options for removing damaged skin cells and reinvigorating healthy skin,” Dr. Lucas says. “It just depends on the nature of the damage.”

7. Treat underlying conditions

Treating the underlying skin condition or health condition that’s causing your dry skin will help alleviate the problem.

Health conditions that may cause dry skin include:

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“If dryness is a sign of a more serious issue, you’ll usually have dry skin elsewhere — not just on your face,” Dr. Lucas clarifies. “In many cases, you’ll also notice other symptoms, such as body aches or joint pain.”

If you haven’t been diagnosed with an underlying medical condition, but suspect you may have one, speak to your primary care provider about your concerns.

When to see a healthcare provider for dry facial skin

You can treat most dry skin issues at home with simple tweaks to your face care regimen. But if your dry skin sticks around, a dermatologist or other healthcare professional may be able to speed up the process or identify an underlying cause.

“Most facial dryness can be remedied, but there are cases where it’s best to have your provider take a look,” Dr. Lucas notes.

Contact a healthcare provider if your dryness is:

  • Appearing wet and red, which may be signs of seborrheic dermatitis, a sensitivity to normal yeast on your face.
  • Itchy and irritating to the point that it interferes with your daily activities and quality of life.
  • Not improving, especially if you’re older.
  • Persistent and pink, which could be a sign of precancerous cells.

“Your provider can also help you keep dry skin from happening again,” Dr. Lucas says. “The key to healthy, supple skin is prevention. Prioritize moisture at every age and help your skin manage the side effects of aging by wearing sunscreen daily.”

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