Dry Skin? These 8 Things Are Making It Worse

We all develop terrible skin care habits, whether due to misinformation or sheer laziness. But you need to take your skin type into account before choosing new products or beginning a new regimen. Oily, dry, combination, or sensitive, your skin will benefit if you choose the right products, ingredients, and formulations. Some ingredients will be more effective than others in addressing your top skin care concerns. Some will interact well with your skin, while others will just irritate it.

Dry skin is especially difficult to figure out. It’s what happens when your skin can’t retain its natural moisture, or hold on to the moisturizing ingredients that you apply. Dry skin is especially problematic given it’s often sensitive or even acne-prone. Taking proper care of dry skin necessitates choosing the right ingredient. It also means avoiding the products and skin care mistakes that may be making the condition worse. Read on to check out some of the things that may be worsening your dry skin.

1. Choosing a moisturizer that’s insufficient for your skin’s needs

female hand applying moisturiser

Know your skin type. | iStock.com/Jpc-Prod

If you think moisturizing is a crucial step in taking care of dry skin, you’re right. But if your skin is getting worse and not better, you may have chosen the wrong moisturizer. As always, your products should incorporate ingredients that are scientifically proven to be effective. There are dozens of great ingredients, of course. But if you’re struggling with dry skin, you’ll want to look for a product that has the ingredients that experts like Paula Begoun recommend.

Begoun’s website advises looking for a moisturizer with antioxidants, skin-replenishing ingredients, emollients, and sunscreen. There’s significant research to back up the importance of all of these ingredients.

2. Neglecting to protect your skin from sun exposure

portrait of joyful teen girl taken directly against sun

SPF is a must. | iStock.com/Martinan

Begoun’s site recommends choosing a moisturizer with broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30. We all know sun protection is important, but sun protection is especially important for dry skin. Even the best moisturizer and skin care regimen won’t be able to keep up with sun damage.

Sun exposure continually damages your skin and hurts its ability to retain moisture. And it also diminishes your skin’s ability to replenish and repair. Either choose a moisturizer with broad spectrum protection, or use a separate sunscreen year-round. 

3. Scrubbing your skin to get rid of dryness and flaking

Mature woman making cosmetic mask from coffee

Don’t go overboard with exfoliating. | iStock.com/ladi59

If you wake up to dry and flaky skin, scrubbing it away can seem like a logical reaction. But roughly scrubbing your face, or slathering on chemical exfoliants that are too harsh will only aggravate dry skin in the long run.

Gentle chemical exfoliants are always a better choice than gritty scrubs, which damage the surface of your skin. You should opt for a well-formulated chemical exfoliant, with either AHA or BHA, to gently assist your skin in shedding dry, dead layers. You can read more about both over at HighYa. A well-formulated exfoliant may even help your skin to better retain moisture, which is perfect if you want to keep it healthy and moisturized. 

4. Cleansing with harsh soap or drying cleanser

Asian woman washing her face in the sink

Be careful of your cleanser. | iStock.com/ferlistockphoto

You need to wash your skin somehow. A harsh soap or a drying cleanser isn’t the way to go, though, particularly if you’re already struggling with dry skin. These sorts of cleansers only make dry skin worse. If your cleanser leaves your skin feeling tight or dry, it’s the wrong choice for your skin type.

Instead of going with any old bar soap or picking up the first liquid cleanser you see, look for options that are gentle and moisturizing. And while you’re changing up your cleansing routine, pay attention to how you’re washing your face and body. Don’t scrub with a rough washcloth, and don’t subject already-dry skin to scalding hot water. It’s a much better idea to keep things gentle, and to moisturize immediately after cleansing.

5. Taking long, hot showers

Woman is washing her hair

A hot shower isn’t doing your skin any favors. | iStock.com/esp2k

It’s simply not a good idea to take long, hot showers or baths if your skin is dry. And it’s not just hot water that can hurt dry skin. Hanging out in a car, house, or office with an overzealous heating system can pull the moisture out of your skin — but that’s a lot harder for you to control than your bathing habits.

It helps to keep your showers brief (or turn the water temperature down a bit). And if you do take a hot shower or bath, you’ll probably find it helpful to moisturize head to toe immediately afterward. That way, you’ll help your skin make up for the moisture it lost when you were cleansing. 

6. Using products that irritate your skin

Girl on the bed applying cosmetic on her legs

Be choosy about products. | iStock.com/Sjale

If you have “normal” skin — and we sometimes wonder whether anyone really does — you can probably use just about any ingredients you want without worrying about how your skin will react. But that’s definitely not the case if you’re dealing with chronically dry skin. You may know that there are a few products that don’t sit well with your skin. But what you may not know is that you should be avoiding an array of irritating ingredients.

A common culprit is fragrance, which can irritate your skin whether it’s natural or synthetic. Don’t think that it’s OK if it comes in the form of an essential oil. Others to look out for include alcohols, citrus, peppermint, and menthol — all things that may be harmless on more balanced skin, but are sure to wreak havoc on dry skin. 

7. Dismissing facial oils as a moisturizing option

girl checking her face for pimple in mirror

Facial oils can really help. | iStock.com

Anyone who’s struggled with acne is likely to be reticent to use a facial oil. But if you have persistently dry and flaky skin, a facial oil may be exactly what you need to make your skin softer and smoother. You can use an oil for an added boost of hydration, either alternating it with your moisturizer or layering it under your moisturizer.

If you opt to try a facial oil, such as these recommendations from Allure, keep in mind that even the best oil on the market won’t replace an entire shelf of skin care products. While many non-fragrant plant oils are a great source of antioxidants and emollients, they can’t replace ingredients like retinol, niacinamide, ceramides, or hyaluronic acid. So you should think about oils as an added step to boost the efficacy of your skin care routine — not to replace it. 

8. Ignoring your dry skin to treat your acne

woman applying moisturizer on face

Even acne-prone skin needs moisture. | iStock.com/gpointstudio

It’s a common misconception that it’s impossible to have both dry skin and acne. But as the unlucky few can tell you, it does happen. If you find yourself with both dry skin and breakouts, you’ll need to experiment to find the right products and the right routine to both address dryness and combat breakouts. But the worst thing you can do is to ignore the dry skin to treat the acne, since the harsh products every drugstore sells for acne-prone skin are sure to make dry skin worse.

Begoun’s site has some advice for dealing with dry skin and acne simultaneously. The article recommends choosing a soothing cleanser and toner duo, and adding a powerful but gentle BHA exfoliant. Another suggestion is to use benzoyl peroxide regularly in acne-prone areas to prevent breakouts. Round out your routine with a moisturizer and/or serum to make sure that your skin is hydrated. Whatever you do, you need to avoid using ingredients that are too harsh, and ultimately unsuited to your skin type.

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