The Best Skincare Routine For Dry Skin

by Gio
dry skin routine

I learned to take care of my dry skin the hard way.

It all started when I moved to London. The harsh winters, the unrelenting winds that blow all day long and the high temperatures indoors were no match for my dry skin: they sucked all the moisture out of it, leaving it all dry and flaky.

And SO thirsty. It always demands I give it more water. MORE. MORE. MORE. ALL THE TIME. It’s like nothing can quench it.

That’s how it feels, anyway. But it IS possible to treat dry skin and turn it all soft and supple again. Here’s the best skincare routine for dry skin:

What Is Dry Skin And How Do You Know That’s Your Skin Type?

Here are the symptoms of dry skin:

  • Skin flakes like a bad attack of dandruff, and why is it always so rough?
  • You wish you didn’t have to wash your face, it feels so tight and uncomfortable afterwards.
  • Inner glow? What’s that? You skin is as dull as dishwater.
  • You’re no stranger to itchiness and redness.
  • You develop wrinkles, and deeper ones too, earlier than your oily-skinned girlfriends. So unfair!
  • On the plus side, your pores are so small, you’re not even sure you have them.

Related: How To Determine Your Skin Type (Plus Free Test!)

What causes dry skin?

Wondering why you have to deal with all those symptoms? Your skin is damaged.

Your skin has a protective barrier that keeps moisture in and germs, pollutants and other skin enemies out. When this shield is broken down in pieces, moisture evaporates.

Adding moisture back in won’t work. It’ll just evaporate through the cracks again. That’s why your skin is thirsty all the time.

Here’s what damages the skin’s protective barrier:

  • Central air conditioning or heating
  • Cold and humid weather
  • Genes (yes, you can inherit dry skin)
  • Harsh and irritating skincare products
  • Unprotected sun exposure

It all gets worse as you age. As you get older, your levels of estrogen decrease. This makes your skin thinner and unable to retain moisture well. *sighs*

Related: How To Strengthen Your Skin’s Protective Barrier (And Why It Matters)

cerave hydrating cleanser

The Best Skincare Routine For Dry Skin

The key to saying “arrivederci dry skin” is to fix the skin’s protective barrier. Here’s how:

1. Choose A Moisturizing Cleanser

Foaming cleansers and bar soaps are terribly drying for your skin type. They strip the little oil your dry skin naturally produces, wreaking more damage on its protective barrier. Ditch them.

Opt for cream cleansers, cleansing milks, and cleansing oils (my absolute fave). They cleanse just as well AND replenish the little oil they’re stripping away. Afterwards, your skin feels soft and supple, NOT tight and uncomfortable.

Best Picks:

Related: How To Choose The Best Cleanser For Your Skin Type

2. If you must use a toner…

(And you totally don’t) opt for a hydrating formula. Anything with glycerin and hyaluronic acid is a good idea – they kiss your dry skin with moisture.

Instead, avoid astringents (toners with alcohol/witch hazel and little else) like the plague. They’re terribly drying.

Best Picks:

Related: Why You Don’t Need A Toner

the ordinary glycolic acid toning solution

3. Exfoliate With AHAs

The best way to exfoliate dry skin? No, it’s NOT apricot or sugar scrubs. Get rid of those.

I’m talking about glycolic acid. The star in the alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) family, glycolic acid effortlessly dissolves the bonds that hold dead skin cells together, so they can slough off. When they’re gone, dry patches disappear and your complexion gets a radiant glow.

But, that’s something that every good exfoliant does. What sets glycolic acid apart is its ability to hydrate skin. A godsend for your skin type.

P.S. 10% and higher concentrations of glycolic acid also boost collagen production. That means fewer wrinkles, lucky you.

Best Picks:

Related: The Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid: What It Is, How To Use It & Where To Find It

4. Use a hydrating serum

The best way to hydrate your skin? A serum with hyaluronic acid (or its close cousin sodium hyaluronate).

You can find them in plenty of toners and moisturizers, and should use those too. When it comes to hyaluronic acid, your skin can’t get enough. 🙂

But I like to use a separate serum with hyaluronic acid because serums contain a higher dose that makes them work better and faster. Bonus points if they’re loaded with antioxidants and soothing agents (my best picks are 🙂 ).

Best Picks:

Related: Why You Should Add Hyaluronic Acid To Your Skincare Routine

niod multi-molecular hyaluronic complex

5. Lock moisture in with a rich moisturizer

It’s not enough to drench skin in moisture. You need to make sure that moisture stays there, too. Hard to do when your skin’s protective barrier is damaged.

That’s why you need rich moisturizers loaded with occlusive humectants, like mineral oil and shea butter, that can create a protective barrier on the skin that locks moisture in.

The best ones also contain skin-repairing ingredients. This is the stuff – like ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids – that makes up the skin’s protective barrier. They fill in the holes, stitching your barrier back together.

Best Picks:

Related:Dry Skin? Here’s What Your Moisturiser Should Contain

6. Sunscreen

You know what’s constantly attacking your skin’s protective barrier? Yep, the sun. Those pesky UV rays give you wrinkles, dark spots, and cancer, AND destroy your skin’s natural protective barrier.

Rain or shine, pile on that sunscreen!

Best Picks:

Related: 6 Myths About Sunscreens Busted

Need help creating the best skincare routine for you dry skin? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Dry Skincare Routine Cheatsheet” (it includes product recommendations, too!).

7. Avoid Irritating Ingredients

Harsh and irritating ingredients are another thing that can destroy your skin’s natural protective barrier. The main offenders are:

  • Alcohol Denat
  • Citrus oils
  • Lavender
  • Menthol
  • Peppermint
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate
  • Witch Hazel

Avoid them!

Related: Is Witch Hazel Good Or Bad For Skin?

8. Take short baths and showers

Man, I hate this one.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE long, hot baths. But, they are SO drying for my skin. If you can, don’t spend more than 15 minutes in shows or bath tub.

I know if it sucks, but your skin will thank you.

Related: 4 Ways To Prevent A Warm Bath From Drying Out Your Skin

9. Get a humidifier

My last tip is to get a humidifier. Low humidity causes dry skin skin, too. If you live or work in a place where the central hair conditioning or heating is always on, your skin’ll get stripped of the moisture it so badly needs. A humidifier will add moisture back into the air quickly.

When should You see a doctor?

Don’t panic just yet. You don’t need to see a doctor just because you have dry skin.

It’s when dry skin becomes red and inflamed that you need a dermatologist. This is a sign of dermatitis and you need the help of a professional who knows what to do.

How do you take care of your dry skin? Share your skincare routine and tips in the comments below.



Connie October 14, 2009 - 1:18 pm

Excellent post! Thanks for the tips 🙂 The sun is definitely a huge culprit in drying out skin! despite the fact that i heavy moisturize at night during vacation 🙁

jojoba October 14, 2009 - 1:28 pm

this is very helpful for my dry skin. i still use apple cider vinegar as toner every now and then as it cleans up makeup built-up in pores fast. but yes, i have to use more moixturiser afterwads. and i finally find another person agree with exfoliating skin even for a person with dry skin. many said i don’t have to but i believe if dry skin’s taken dared of, it’s easier to treat. this is the most vital for feet. if scrubbed properly, the cream can penetrate the skin and heals faster from my experience.

Nikki October 14, 2009 - 1:40 pm

this post is totally directed to me! thanks for this!!!
.-= Nikki´s last blog ..Clinique’s October Offer =-.

Jasmine October 14, 2009 - 1:45 pm

That photo scared me! But I know how to shoot something like that — slather on thick facepaint, wait for it to dry for that texture 🙂

Dao October 14, 2009 - 3:40 pm

Hyaluronic acid is good to moisturize the skin as well 🙂 That picture is scary and I hope in real life, the person’s skin is not that bad.
.-= Dao´s last blog ..Yves Saint Laurent Parisienne: Paris Light =-.

beautifulwithbrains October 14, 2009 - 4:47 pm

Connie: thanks and you’re welcome. I agree, the sun is one of the major causes of dry skin at any time, even winter. But apart from using sunscreen religiously every day and reapplying it every two hours there’s no much we can do about that. 🙁

jojoba: I think exfoliation is necessary if you have dry skin. Dry skin doesn’t shed properly and that causes skin cells build up which makes skin look flaky. Not to mention, it makes products penetrate the skin better so that they are more effective. But you need to be careful and use a gentle scub or you may irritate skin even more.

beautifulwithbrains October 14, 2009 - 5:00 pm

Nikki: you’re welcome, hope you find it useful. 🙂

Jasmine: sorry! I was wondering how they could have taken that picture, now I know. Thanks!

Dao: you’re right, hyaluronic acid is great at moisturizing and reteaning water into the skin even in low and high humidity conditions. I hope so too but I think it’s either makeup like Jasmine said or just photoshopped.

Tavia October 14, 2009 - 5:20 pm

I have oily skin and I think that every type of skin has it’s main problems. My skin hates summer (although I love it) but is doing great in the cold season ( even on -20 degrees).

beautifulwithbrains October 14, 2009 - 7:08 pm

Tavia, yes, every skin type has its problems. Mine is combination and gets drier in winter and oilier in the summer. It’s a pain! I’m glad your skin behaves at least in winter. I’m writing a post about oily skin, so check back soon 😉

Anastacia October 14, 2009 - 11:20 pm

Nice tips and tricks for dry skin!
The picture s so funny 😛
.-= Anastacia´s last blog ..Meow Meow! Cat Eyes Look. And whould you like to make your own baby elephant to accessory your bedroom? =-.

Jenn October 15, 2009 - 1:42 am

Great tips!! I definitely need this as my legs are horribly dry and itchy!!
.-= Jenn´s last blog ..Product Review: Silkygirl QuikClean Extra Strength Nail Polish Remover =-.

beautifulwithbrains October 15, 2009 - 12:17 pm

Anastacia: thanks, I hope you find them helpful 🙂

Jenn: thank you! Sounds like we have the same problem, my legs (and they rest of my body) are dry too. I hope these tips will help you as much as they helped me 🙂

Denise November 16, 2010 - 1:08 am

wow really helpful post! Good points! I hate the cold wind in the winter months, I have normal to dry skin and the wind makes my skin really tight and it makes me have dry patches! (although I don’t have serious dryness)

Using a cream cleanser will really help, I used to use gel cleanser but now I’ve switched to cream/milk cleanser and it was such a relief to my skin, it really helps with softening the skin.

About the toner thing, I think all skins need toner except if it’s a really dry skin, although a hydrating mist would be a great choice. I’m currently on a search for a rosewater mist to soothe my skin, I really need one haha..
I’m guilty of taking a long shower and with very warm water and afterwards my skin is usually tight…! I love a long shower..! 🙂 And I’m in need of a humidifier, my dad said he would get one for me.. I’ve never used one so let’s see how that works.

beautifulwithbrains November 16, 2010 - 11:57 am

Denise, I’m glad cream cleanser work so well for your skin. They are also more moisturizing and soothing than gel cleansers and a great choice for those with dry skin.

As for toners, I have combination skin and don’t use one. I used to but then I run out of it so I skipped it for a few days and saw no change in how my skin looked or felt. Toners do nothing for me, I’m afraid. Of course, it also depends on the toner. I do like hydrating mists. I don’t think they are a necessary step in a skincare routine but they are nice nonethless as they add more moisture to the skin. 🙂

I’m guilty fo taking long showers with very warm water too. I know it’s bad but how to resist when the weather’s so cold?

Denise November 20, 2010 - 12:11 am

yes, I agree and the funny thing is I had never used one before (a cream cleanser I mean). Of course, to be honest, I always had normal skin &normal skin girls can use either gel or cream/milk (or so I’ve read). But lately my skin was neglected (the past year) and feeling so tight and itchy so I had to try something else (and I used a cream cleanser totally by accident, my grandma bought me a Garnier one when I was staying at her place heehee) and then I really liked it, how much of a difference it made. Gel ones are more harsh indeed..

I agree about the moisturising mist’s properties that you mentioned, they would be a nice extra step.. I’m suspecting toners don’t do much for me either lol because I bought my first one and haven’t been using it much, it has like an astringent effect on my skin that I like though, and also they do some good on my acne areas (cheeks etc.) and I find it fun to apply with the cotton pad. 🙂 But other than that, I’ve never really needed one either, maybe it could be an added luxury step haha =) I think oily skins could benefit more from a toner.

I know, so cold indeed!!! ^^

beautifulwithbrains November 21, 2010 - 8:51 pm

Denise, how nice of your grandma to get you one. I used to be skeptical of cream cleansers too but once you try them, it’s hard to go back esp if you have dry skin. They are gentler indeed.

I do like hydrating or moisturizing toners as some of them contain antioxidants and other beneficial ingredients that are good for you but they are hard to come by (at least here in Italy) and usually cost more. But most toners are just basic and unless one has oily skin, they’re not really necessary. But I do like the fresh feeling they give so sometimes I’d buy one anyway. If you like something and it’s not too expensive, why not using it anyway, right?

Poonpo January 6, 2015 - 5:03 am

My friend is having dry skin , i will recommend this to my friend 🙂

Gio January 6, 2015 - 2:05 pm

Poonpo, thank you for sharing it with your friend. I hope it will help her.

Marina Sanchez December 5, 2018 - 8:07 pm

Hi Gio,
I just found this blog and I’m wondering if your recommendations for dry skin still stand or if you have any updates. This is really helpful and informative….Thank you for doing this blog.

Gio December 7, 2018 - 10:48 am

Marina, yes, they still stand. In fact, I just updated this post a couple of weeks ago with new products and information so everything is up to date. 🙂

Thelma Sansome January 7, 2019 - 4:59 pm

I used Olive Oil on my face this morning has a moisturizer
and found it great.

Gio January 19, 2019 - 11:26 am

Thelma, it’s wonderful, isn’t it?

Divya Devarajan February 15, 2019 - 10:24 am

I think hyaluronic acid could make huge difference to you skin irrespective of the type of skin you have. Try it!

Gio February 15, 2019 - 2:01 pm

Divya, I agree!

Alexandra April 5, 2019 - 10:28 am

Hi Gio, after the subscription, I didn’t get the best straight skincare routine. your blog is one of the best that I read

Gio April 12, 2019 - 3:24 pm

Alexandra, glad you love the blog and sorry you didn’t get the cheatsheet. Did you get the email with the skincare library password? Your freebie is in there. If not, look in your junk mail.

Christina September 7, 2019 - 9:36 am

I think you should take a closer look at La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Hyaluronic Acid Serum. Alcohol Denat is high on the list!

Aqua / Water, Glycerin, Alcohol Denat., Propylene Glycol, Panthenol, Pentylene Glycol, Dimethicone, Peg-6 Caprylic/Capric, Glycerides, Ppg-6-Decyltetradeceth-30, Glyceryl Isostearate, Madecassoside, Sodium Hyaluronate, Ammonium, Polyacryloyldimethyl Taurate, Disodium Edta, Hydrolyzed Hyaluronic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Citric Acid, Xanthan Gum, Butylene Glycol, Tocopherol, Phenoxyethanol, Parfum /Fragrance. (Code F.I.L. : B212343/1

Gio September 15, 2019 - 1:35 pm

Christina, thank you for pointing that out. However, latest research shows that Alcohol Denat isn’t as bad as previously thought. It’s drying when it’s used alone. But in a cream with plenty of hydrating ingredients, its side effects are nullified. You should only avoid this ingredient if: a) the product doesn’t contain any moisturising agents and b) if you have an allergy/sensitivity to it.

Kit September 7, 2019 - 4:42 pm

Great article! I ordered the cheat sheet. You mention using glycolic acid, which I would be interested in doing. I worry, though, about my skin barrier, as I’m 68 with skin sensitive as well as dry. Right now, I use my husband’s BR P-50 1970 twice a week. What would you recommend I use instead, and how often do you suggest I use it?

Gio September 15, 2019 - 1:30 pm

Kit, try lactic acid a couple of times a week at night. It’s gentle and hydrating, too.

Angie P November 11, 2019 - 8:06 pm

Hello, I haven’t been able to find a clear answer to my question. When are you supposed to use hyaluronic acid? When your face is wet, before applying an exfoliating acid and vitamin C? Or do you need to apply those two first, mist your face, then add the hyaluronic? Any help would be much appreciated.

Gio December 15, 2019 - 11:09 am

Angie, you’re complicating this too much. Hyaluronic acid works whether you use before or after moisturizer, before or after serum… so applying whenever it’s convenient for you. I personally use this just before moisturiser.

Comments are closed.