Everything You Should Know About Having Dry Skin on Your Face

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, CNE, COI on January 17, 2017Written by Natalie Silver

Can dry skin cause other symptoms?

If the skin on your face is dry, it may flake or itch. Sometimes, it can feel tight to touch or even hurt.

Other symptoms of dry skin include:

  • scaling
  • peeling
  • redness
  • an ashy look (for those with a darker complexion)
  • rough or sandpaper-like skin
  • bleeding

Dry skin can generally be treated by tweaking your skincare routine or changing some environmental factors. Sometimes dry skin is a sign of an underlying medical condition that should be treated by your doctor.

How can I get rid of dry skin on my face?

Before you start switching up your products, there are several things you can try to ease dryness. Most are simple to implement and can be used together to alleviate your symptoms.

Modify your shower

If you can, skip hot showers in favor of lukewarm ones. Hot water can dry your skin by removing naturally occurring oils.

You may also find it beneficial to reduce your time in the shower to five to 10 minutes. This avoids unnecessary exposure to water, which can leave your skin drier than it was before you hopped in the shower.

Avoid showering or bathing more than once a day, as this can worsen dry skin.

Wash your face gently

When selecting a face wash, you should avoid soaps and cleansers that contain harsh ingredients like alcohol, retinoids, or alpha hydroxy acids. These unnecessary ingredients may dry your skin and cause irritation or inflammation.

There are several mild and moisturizing soaps without fragrances that you can try.

You should look for one or more of the following ingredients that retain moisture:

  • polyethylene glycol
  • akyl-polyglycoside
  • silicone surfactants
  • lanolin
  • paraffin

Syndets, or synthetic cleaning agents, are another beneficial soap ingredient. They often contain chemicals such as sulphur trioxide, sulphuric acid, and ethylene oxide, which are gentle on sensitive skin.

You should also be gentle as you apply soaps or cleansers to your face. Use just your fingertips and gently rub your face instead of using a more abrasive sponge or washcloth. Don’t scrub the skin on your face, as this can cause irritation.

Avoid washing your face multiple times a day. If you’re dealing with dry skin, it may be best to only wash your face at night. This cleanses your face after a long day of collecting dirt and will prevent you from eliminating necessary oils from the skin.

Don’t exfoliate the skin on a daily basis. Instead, try just once a week. This can reduce irritation associated with harsh scrubbing.

Apply moisturizer

Find a moisturizer that works for your skin and use it regularly, especially after you shower. Applying it at this time can help your skin retain moisture.

Your facial moisturizer should be free of fragrance and alcohol, as they can cause unnecessary irritation. You may want to try a moisturizer that includes a sunscreen to protect yourself from exposure to sunlight. Look for products that help retain water in the skin.

To restore moisture, choose a heavier, oil-based moisturizer containing ingredients that help keep your skin hydrated. Petrolatum-based products are best for dry or cracked skin. They have more staying power than creams do and are more effective at preventing water from evaporating from your skin.

Lip balm can help relieve dry, chapped, or cracked lips. The lip balm should contain petrolatum, petroleum jelly, or mineral oil. Make sure it feels good when you apply it and that it doesn’t cause your lips to tingle. If it does, try another product.

Bundle up

Exposure to cold weather may worsen dry skin. Try bundling a scarf around your face to prevent dry skin. However, keep in mind that your skin may react to the materials in the scarf and the detergents you use to wash it.

Avoid rough, scratchy fabrics. Detergent should be hypoallergenic and free of dyes and fragrances. You may find detergent formulated for sensitive skin to be beneficial.

Try a humidifier

Low humidity may be a factor in drying your skin. Use a humidifier in rooms where you spend a lot of time. Adding moisture to the air may prevent your skin from drying. Make sure your humidifier is easy to clean, which can avoid bacteria buildup.

Check out: The best facial moisturizers on the market »

Why does this happen?

Dryness occurs when your skin doesn’t have enough water or oil. Dry skin can affect anyone at any time. You may have dry skin year-round or just in cold weather months, when the temperatures drop and the humidity lowers.

You may also notice dry skin when:

  • traveling
  • residing in a dry climate
  • you come into contact with chlorine in a swimming pool
  • you experience excessive sun exposure

Dry skin may be so severe that it cracks the skin. Cracked skin can allow bacteria to enter the body, causing an infection. If you suspect that you have an infection, you should consult your doctor.

Symptoms of infection include:

  • redness
  • heat
  • pus
  • blisters
  • rash
  • pustules
  • fever

When to see a doctor

Trying basic first-line treatments for dry skin on the face should relieve your symptoms.

Contact your doctor if you:

  • experience dry skin after regular skin care
  • suspect that you have an infection from cracked skin
  • believe you may have another, more serious skin condition

Conditions that appear to be mild dry skin at first but require more in-depth medical treatment include:

  • Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, causes very dry skin on the face and other parts of the body. It’s thought to be inherited.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis affects areas with oil glands, such as the eyebrows and nose.
  • Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that includes scaling of the skin, dry skin patches, and other symptoms.

Your doctor may recommend a prescription treatment for your dry skin. These treatments may include topical creams such as a corticosteroid, or oral medications, such as immune modulators. Your doctor will likely recommend these medications in combination with routine skin care.

Learn more: Can I use coconut oil for skin care? »

Outlook

Switching up your shower routine or otherwise tweaking your skin care regimen should help ease your symptoms within a week or so. In order to see a permanent change, be consistent in these lifestyle changes. Sticking to a regular routine is the only way to ensure lasting results.

If your symptoms persist or worsen, consult your doctor. In some cases, dryness may be a sign of an underlying skin condition. Your doctor or dermatologist can work with you to find the cause of any dryness and recommend a treatment plan.

How to prevent dry skin

To prevent future dryness, implement a healthy skin care routine.

General tips

  • Wash your face daily with a mild cleanser and lukewarm water.
  • Choose skin care products suited to your skin type — oily, dry, or combination.
  • Protect your skin by wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
  • Apply lotion after you shower or bathe to lock in moisture.
  • Use petroleum jelly to moisturize dry skin.

If you experience dry skin at a particular time of year, such as when the weather cools, make sure you adjust your skin care routine. It may be necessary to switch products or shower routines during certain times of the year to avoid a dry face.

Keep reading: The 4 best vitamins for your skin »

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