Severely dry skin may not be life-threatening, but it’s definitely frustrating and uncomfortable. It can also contribute to other skin woes like flakiness, itching, wrinkles, and even eczema and psoriasis, according to NYC dermatologist Dr. Judith Hellman. Unfortunately, chronic lack of hydration is something more and more women have to reckon with as we get older.
“As we age, the skin is less capable of maintaining moisture, and age-related loss of moisture can cause more dryness over time,” explains Dr. Hellman, who suggests moisturizing more frequently as you get older to help offset the damage.
There are a variety of factors that play into one’s skin type, so the precise cause of one person’s dry skin may be different from someone else’s. “Some people have blue eyes and some people have brown eyes. Different people [have different] skin,” Dr. Hellman says, noting how some of the factors that come into play for parched skin are hereditary and due largely to genetics.
Of course, lifestyle factors also play a role. Swimmers, for instance, have to work harder to fight dryness because of the chlorine in pool water.
But what can you do if your skin is so dried out that nothing seems to help?
Melissa Lekus, a Los Angeles esthetician, is a firm believer in the power of serums to help heal and hydrate even the most severely dry skin. “When your skin is dehydrated, its protective barrier layer is compromised,” she explains. “Serums are key to repairing the damage.”
The way serums are formulated helps their ingredients penetrate the skin more effectively, she says. A few that Lekus loves? Skin Script’s Ageless Hydrating Serum ($30), Hale & Hush’s Soothe Essence — which calms and hydrates highly sensitive skin, and Peter Thomas Roth’s Water Drench Hyaluronic Cloud Serum ($41.55) — which is made up of a hefty 75 percent hyaluronic acid.
In fact, Lekus believes that hyaluronic acid is the top ingredient to look for if you’re trying to treat super-thirsty skin. “The best ingredient for dry or dehydrated skin is hyaluronic acid, due to its ability to hold up to 1000 times its weight in hydration,” she says. Lekus also suggests trying sheet masks as a quick, easy way to infuse a mega dose of moisture. Her favorites are ToGoSpa’s Ice Water Mask ($35) and Dermovia Lace Your Face Rejuvenating Collagen Mask ($15-$55).
You can also try adding a drop or two of oil into your regular moisturizer for a boost. Lekus recommends Drunk Elephant Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil ($21).
Pro tip: If you suspect your skin is drying up overnight, wear an overnight hydrating mask. Products like Laniege’s Water Sleeping Mask ($21) and Lip Sleeping Mask ($15) are well-recommended by many users.
Don’t forget to tackle the skin from the neck down, too
If it’s your body skin that’s rough, dry, and flaky, Dr. Hellman suggests moisturizing with creams and lotions containing AHAs like lactic acid and glycolic acid to encourage hydration and cell turnover. Two inexpensive over-the-counter body creams she suggests are AmLactin ($26.49) and Lac-Hydrin ($27.99).
Hellman also manufactures her own body lotion with 15 percent glycolic acid ($40) that she claims is “capable of fully penetrating and changing the skin.” She also recommends applying safflower oil after bathing and using Vaseline on “especially dry areas like feet and elbows.”
If you have very dry skin, you’ll probably want to avoid certain ingredients and products for the sake of preserving your skin’s already fragile hydration balance. Hellman advises to steer clear of anything with perfumes (or parfum, as it would be listed on the ingredients). Lekus is adamant about avoiding kaolin, charcoal, salicylic acid, and tea tree oil — all of which work to absorb the skin’s natural oils and could “over-dry already dry skin, stripping the top layer of the epidermis, which may result in flaky or scaly skin.”
Avoid these ingredients
- perfume, or parfum
- salicylic acid
- tea tree oil
The jury is still out about whether drinking lots of water helps
Will internal hydration really make a difference in the behavior of your skin? While it certainly won’t hurt, Dr. Hellman notes that “someone has to be clinically dehydrated for their skin to change” from simply drinking a little more H20 every day. She does recommend that people stay hydrated with a proper amount of water, however.
Lekus, on the other hand, wholeheartedly believes in the power of drinking water to benefit dry skin. “Studies recommend drinking half your bodyweight in ounces of water every day,” she says. “If you need to make your water more palatable, infuse it with fruit, or add lemon, lime, cucumber, mint.” She also suggests drinking coffee, tea, and soda in moderation since very dehydrating.
What about fringe-y beauty treatments like hydration shots and IV drips? More and more spas and wellness clinics are offering treatments like these to help boost hydration, but Lekus and Hellman don’t see any proof that they work. Dr. Hellman makes a point, “If you have something to sell, there's always someone who will buy it.”
Lekus agrees. “I would not recommend fads, such as hydration shots or IV drips,” she says. Instead, she urges people with dry skin to “take the health of your skin seriously, and nurture it on an ongoing basis.” In order to do this, some might want to book a consultation with a dermatologist or esthetician.
“When we self-diagnose, we often can’t see the root cause of dryness. Therefore, we end up treating the symptoms and not the problem,” Lekus says. “Your skin has to serve you for a lifetime.”
Laura Barcella is an author and freelance writer currently based in Brooklyn. She’s written for the New York Times, RollingStone.com, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, The Week, VanityFair.com, and many more.