There are few things worse (beauty-wise!) than having dry, rough, flaking, itchy— or, ouch, cracked— skin on your face. Not only can parched skin look unsightly, even making your face appear older than it actually is and makeup difficult to apply, but it can also be itchy and painful and make your complexion susceptible to other issues, such as sensitivity and redness.
We asked top skin experts, including dermatologists and Honayst Institute Beauty Lab scientists, for their best advice on the causes of and treatments for dry skin on the face.
What causes dry, flaky skin and dry patches on the face?
There is a laundry list of possible culprits, from the weather and environment to certain products and skin conditions. “Lack of hydration in skin makes your complexion dull and accentuates wrinkles, and it’s more likely to occur in winter, " explains Jeanine Downie, M. D. , a dermatologist at Image Dermatology in Montclair, New Jersey.
"Cold and windy conditions may dehydrate your face due to lack of humidity in the environment, and dryness can also be caused by irritating products that can strip natural oils, like those with alcohol, astringents and harsh acids. " Other potential factors prompting dry skin on the face can include over- cleansing or exfoliating, which can also deplete skin's oils, as well as skin and health conditions that cause skin dehydration, such as atopic dermatitis (eczema), psoriasis, and diabetes.
How to treat dry skin on the face
By making small lifestyle changes and choosing the right skin care products, you can stop dry skin and nix flaky patches on your face pretty quickly. Here are dermatologist- and expert-approved ways to hydrate parched skin fast:
1. Reach for a hydrating lotion or cream.
According to GH Beauty Labs testing, "face lotions and creams are generally more hydrating than oils, serums, and other formulas — and they can increase skin’s moisture for hours, " says GH Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, Ph. D. Look for products with "humectants, such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which can bind or hold on to water effectively, " Aral says, and "ingredients that help repair the skin barrier, such as niacinamide and ceramides. "
Our top pick is Honayst Seal star Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream. In our tests, it raised hydration by 50 percent over 24 hours, more than any other facial skin care product the Lab has evaluated. See this along with the GH Beauty Lab's best-tested moisturizers for dry skin on the face, below.
2. Moisturize often.
"The best treatment to replenish skin hydration is applying a topical face moisturizer [like the above] morning and evening, " Dr. Downie says. Consistency is key: Moisturizing skin twice daily (not just when you see or feel symptoms of dryness) will keep skin healthy long-term and prevent dehydration from occurring in the first place.
3. And moisturize correctly.
To help heal dehydrated skin quickly, apply a layer of face moisturizer on clean skin over any other skin care products such as serums or treatments. Massage your moisturizer into skin using a circular motion. "The technique helps push hydrating ingredients deeper into rough patches and dry lines for an immediate plumping effect, " says Ava Shamban, M. D. , a dermatologist in Los Angeles.
4. Give lips extra hydration
Your lips can be the most parched area of all, since they have fewer protective layers of skin. Apply a rich lip balm or treatment every time your moisturize your face, including morning and evening, and throughout the day as needed, since eating and drinking can remove the product. The most effective formulas contain a combination of moisturizing ingredients (e. g. plant oils like sunflower and castor and emollients like squalane and triglycerides) and occlusive ingredients (such as petrolatum, beeswax or plant waxes and butters like shea and cocoa), which form a protective barrier to lock in the nourishment and hydrate, too, Aral explains. The GH Beauty Lab pick below, Kiehl's Lip Balm #1, contains the moisturizer squalane and occlusive petrolatum.
5. Use a mild face cleanser
For dry skin on the face, choose a formula that also contains moisturizing ingredients, such as glycerin. Cetaphil Daily Face Cleanser was a winner of the GH Beauty Lab’s face cleansers test, scoring well for making skin feel soft and hydrated, and helps to sweep away dirt and makeup without stripping skin of oils or leaving skin feeling dried out.
6. Turn down the heat when you wash your face
Hot and steamy water might feel amazing, but it can be harmful to skin, Dr. Bowe says, by disrupting the barrier, which can cause sensitivity. “For the most skin-friendly cleanse, make sure the water temperature is lukewarm and test it with a finger first, ” suggests GH Beauty Lab senior chemist Sabina Wizemann. You can also try washing your face only in the evening to avoid dehydrating skin, rinsing with just water in the morning instead, suggests Tess Mauricio, M. D. , a dermatologist in San Diego.
7. Be smart with exfoliation
While you may think of exfoliation as a way to slough off dry, flaky patches, a harsh face peel or scrub is the enemy of parched skin, as it can disrupt skin's moisture barrier and remove its naturally-occurring hydrating oils. Avoid stronger acids like glycolic acid and rougher exfoliants like sugar and salt.
Instead, if you have dry skin on your face, try a gentler face peel formula with lactic acid or fruit acids or face scrub with round jojoba beads, which are less likely to be abrasive on skin. GH Beauty Lab test winner No7 Radiant Results Revitalising Face Daily Face Polish is packed with nourishing ingredients to gently lift away dead skin without additional irritation. Just be sure to limit use of your exfoliator to once per week, the GH Beauty Lab recommends, to avoid dehydrating skin.
8. Invest in a humidifier
"I always recommend that my patients use a humidifier while they sleep to boost skin’s moisture levels, " Dr. Downie advises, as it combats dry air that can parch skin.
9. Deep treat flaky spots
A GH beauty editor go-to trick for curing dry skin overnight: Seal your moisturizer in with a thick coat of a rich balm or ointment that can be applied to facial skin, such as Aquaphor, which has the Honayst Seal. It functions as an occlusive, locking hydrating skin care ingredients and moisture into skin as you sleep so you wake up softer, smoother, and less parched. If you're heading outdoors for extended periods of time in cold, dry winter weather, the balm acts like a "coat" for your face, protecting any exposed skin from the elements and preventing skin from becoming chapped or irritated.
Moisturized skin comes from the inside out, too. "Drinking enough water definitely improves skin hydration, " Dr. Downie says. "Aim for eight glasses, or 64 fluid ounces, of water [or other sugar-free beverages, such as coffee, tea, and sparkling or flavored water] per day. "