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How to Care for Dry Skin
Dry skin might seem simple, but it’s a complicated topic. Making it even more complicated are the contradictory findings about dry skin in countless scientific journals. Yet despite the differing, overly technical details found in those studies, there are two basic, though critical points of unanimous agreement.
The first is that skin’s surface layers have between 10% to 30% water content, and maintaining this level of hydration is tremendously important. The second fact is that intact skin does a far better job of holding hydration than impaired skin.
Without question, hydrated skin is beautiful to behold. When skin is properly moisturized, it’s flexible and supple, both hallmarks of younger skin. Normal hydration also allows skin to preserve and sustain the natural substances it relies on to keep it healthy-looking and visibly protected from negative environmental influences.
Hydrated skin is also better able to naturally shed (exfoliate) built-up dead skin which allows younger skin to reveal itself and help a well-formulated moisturizer absorb better.
When skin is dry, all these elements of healthy, younger, and hydrated skin literally dries up. Thankfully, the research has reached enough consensus to outline the path you can take to turn your dry skin into hydrated, nourished, and plump-looking skin.
Why Your Skin Gets Dry
There are many reasons why skin becomes dry, but fundamentally it happens when skin’s surface becomes disrupted and steadily dismantled. Genetics (what you inherited from your parents), environmental damage, sun damage from accumulated unprotected sun exposure, climate influences, your health, or a combination of those things can be primary or secondary causes. The type of skincare products you use can also be a factor if they contain harsh or drying ingredients that disturb skin’s surface.
Regardless of the cause, the result is your skin can’t maintain its normal moisture level. Your course of action? To reestablish skin’s surface so it can stay perfectly hydrated. When you start providing your skin what it needs to remain intact and smooth, it will better be able to stay hydrated. This simple act done consistently can bring about dramatic change in the feel and appearance of your skin!
How to Restore Hydration to Skin
Given the core issue of dry skin is a broken surface, the two primary goals are to put it back together again and stop doing things that tear it apart. Drenching skin in replenishing and skin-restoring ingredients is the key to hydrating the building blocks of skin. These blocks hold skin together just like mortar holds bricks, keeping precious moisture where it’s supposed to be so skin visibly improves.
The following lists are what you need to stop doing and what you need to start doing break the cycle of having dry, uncomfortable skin.
Stop drying and damaging skin’s surface by avoiding these things:
- Soaps (all kinds, and anything in bar form)
- Drying cleansers of any kind (only gentle, skin-softening cleansers allowed)
- Products with harsh or skin-aggravating ingredients (i.e. alcohol denat., peppermint, menthol, mint, citrus, eucalyptus, and all fragrance, whether natural or synthetic)
- Using extremely hot or cold water
- Soaking skin for lengthy periods of time in the tub or shower will breakdown skin (too much water is as problematic as too little water)
- Abrasive scrubs, loofahs, or stiff-bristled cleansing brushes that cause micro-tears in skin’s surface
Start giving your skin the things it needs to stay hydrated and radiant:
- Wear sunscreen with an SPF 30 or greater 365 days of the year, rain or shine It only takes one minute of unprotected sun exposure to start chipping away at your skin’s surface stability. When skin is compromised from repeated, unprotected sun exposure, it slowly but surely makes it less able to hold moisture or feel smooth, to say nothing of the wrinkles and skin tone changes that develop.
- Use moisturizers and serums that are filled to the brim with antioxidants, skin-replenishing ingredients, and skin-restoring ingredients. These are all the crucial elements skin needs to reconstitute itself, hold on to water, and feel supremely smooth and radiant. No one’s skin can be rehydrated without these indispensable substances that skin thrives on.
- Gently exfoliate: Helping skin to shed built-up surface layers of dead skin as it would if it was hydrated and healthy is a fundamental part of any skincare routine. Young skin can exfoliate dead skin all on its own but that changes as we get older. The most non-irritating, gentlest way to do this is with a well-formulated alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) or beta hydroxy acid (BHA) leave-on exfoliant. These types of products imperceptibly reveal the hydrated, smoother, radiant skin that’s hiding underneath.
- Use boosters that contain skin-nourishing plant oils (no fragrant oils) or hyaluronic acid. Many non-fragrant plant oils not only have skin-softening properties but they also can replenish skin with vital lipids and antioxidants that are even gentle enough for skin prone to eczema. Hyaluronic acid is unique as it is a natural substance in skin that can hold 1000 times its weight in water. Because skin loses its natural hyaluronic acid content as we age, returning that ingredient can make a dramatic improvement in hydration.
- Don't forget your lips: Lips are the least capable of staying smooth and soft. Do not leave your lips naked, day or night. During the day, it’s essential to apply and reapply an emollient lipstick, gloss, or balm and during daylight hours, it needs to contain sunscreen!
- Constant exposure to dry environments, cold weather, or low-humidity air from heaters or air conditioners can also be problematic because they impair and degrade the skin's protective surface. Adding a humidifier to your home can make a world of difference!
Will Drinking Water Help Dry Skin?
It’s generally assumed that drinking water is beneficial for your health but do you need to down 8 glasses every day? There’s no medical support for the notion that 8 glasses is the right number. In fact, many experts think it’s little more than hogwash, especially considering a good deal of the water intake we need comes from the foods we eat, not just in a glass of water.
But does drinking water help dry skin? Until very recently, there was no research indicating that drinking any amount of water had any impact on skin. Then a study published in Clinical Cosmetic Investigative Dermatology demonstrated that drinking water did positively impact skin; however, it would take a lot more than 8 glasses to see benefit.
The study demonstrated that it would take just under a gallon of water (8 glasses = half a gallon) to realize a statistical improvement in your skin. It was a complex study with 49 participants, but it was still an interesting analysis on water consumption and skin. One study doesn’t prove you should start downing a gallon of water to watch your skin improve. Still, other than going to the bathroom more often there certainly isn’t anything wrong with it—especially if you’re choosing water over sugar-laden beverages.
Whatever quantity you decide to drink, it certainly won’t replace the skincare recommendations we strongly urge you to follow. Getting the best skin of your life definitely involves what you ingest but what you apply to its surface to keep it healthy-looking and hydrated can make all the difference in the world.
References for this information:
Skin Research and Technology, August 2015, issue 3, pages 366-372
Clinical Cosmetic Investigative Dermatology, August 2015, issue 8, pages 413–421
Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, June 2014, issue 6, pages 25–32
Archives of Dermatological Research, March 2013, issue 2, pages 151-162
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, February 2010, issue 2, pages 719-724
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, June 2007, issue 2, pages 75-82
British Journal of Dermatology, February 2008, issue 2, pages 251-260 and September 2008, issue 3, pages 567-577
Skin Research and Technology, May 2009, issue 2, pages 242-249, and November 2003,Issue 4, pages 306-311
Journal of Investigative Dermatology, June 2005, issue 6, pages 1099-1011, and February 2003, issue 2, pages 275-284
Dermatologic Therapy, February 2004, 17 supplemental 1, pages 43-48
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, April 2003, issue 11, pages 771–788
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, March 2003, issue 3, pages 352–358
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About the Experts
Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:
The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!