Some skincare concerns are incredibly straightforward. You have a sunburn? Reach for some anti-inflammatory aloe to help soothe the redness and irritation. Your t-zone is extra oily? Incorporate ingredients like salicylic acid and witch hazel into your routine to help balance your oil and make way for a more mattified visage.
One skincare concern that’s not as obvious as far as treatments go? Dry elbows. While you might think that applying any hydrating cream would do the trick, if you’ve ever actually had dry elbows, then you know that’s not the case. And that’s precisely why we thought it was high time to reach out to the experts on the matter. Ahead, find out how board-certified dermatologists Alicia Zalka, MD; Corey L. Hartman, MD; Sandy Skotnicki, MD; and Tiffany J. Libby, MD, address the most stubborn elbow skin.
Meet the Expert
- Alicia Zalka, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Surface Deep.
- Corey L. Hartman, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama.
- Sandy Skotnicki, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the author of Beyond Soap.
- Tiffany J. Libby, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and Bio-Oil partner.
Apply Products While Your Elbows Are Damp
While applying lotions, creams, or ointments to wet skin may seem like it would inhibit the product from actually sinking in, Zalka says that the opposite is actually true. In fact, she says that doing so will actually help lock in hydration and further support the skin barrier, which is vital in healing and caring for dry elbow skin.
Opt for Thicker Products
No matter how hydrating a gel cream claims to be, when it comes to your elbows, Hartman says that it’s best to opt for thicker formulas that can really create a barrier between your elbow skin and the outside world, thus helping to keep moisture in and drying elements out.
His go-to? Bio-Oil Dry Skin Gel ($13). “It has a unique formulation that gives the finish of a body oil in a thicker vehicle that is easier to spread and less messy,” he says. "It’s the perfect final seal for an impaired skin barrier during the harsh winter months when transepidermal water loss increases and dry skin and skin irritation emerge.”
Skip the Super Hot Shower
Skotnicki says that as wonderful as a steamy shower may feel, especially during the colder months of the year, it can actually make matters worse for your elbows and skin at large. (Especially considering dry elbows are commonly associated with winter. ) “Don’t over shower or bathe in hot water—it will dry out elbows more,” she warns.
Use Mild Cleansers
Another thing to keep in mind while showering and bathing? The cleansers you use. “Use cleansers that are mild and don’t dry out the skin when washing the elbows,” Skotnicki says, noting that if your elbows are not dirty, then you don’t need to suds up that area at all. After all, over-cleansing is another way to quickly dry out your ‘bows.
Wear an Ointment Overnight
Just like slugging—the practice of finishing a nighttime skincare routine with an occlusive ointment—can make a world of difference for how hydrated your skin is come morning, so can wearing ointment on your elbows overnight, Hartman says. “Apply your ointment of choice overnight and cover [your elbows] with long sleeves to intensify the effect of the ointment on the skin and repair the barrier while you sleep,” he instructs.
Consider Chemical Exfoliation
Sometimes ointments can't work their magic because there are too many built-up dead skin cells in the way. With that in mind, Libby says to consider using creams infused with chemical exfoliants, like alpha-hydroxy acids. Her recommendation? Glytone Ultra Softening Hand and Elbow Cream ($54). “It’s made with glycolic acid, which helps exfoliate rough and dead skin buildup, while vitamin E helps restore moisture,” she explains.
Try Mechanical Exfoliation
Another option is to use physical (or mechanical) exfoliation. “Use a weekly physical exfoliating scrub in combination with a body scrubber with silicone bristles, like the Foreo Luna 3 ($199), to add another layer of exfoliation to this stubborn body area that requires extra exfoliation,” Hartman recommends.
Incorporate Urea Into Your Skincare Routine
In addition to AHAs, Skotnicki says that adding urea to your elbow care routine can also help. “Urea will remove built-up stratum corneum by loosening the bonds that hold skin cells together,” she explains, noting that urea is also a humectant that helps draw moisture into the skin.
Much like hand creams, foot and heel creams are great options for elbows given their intensely hydrating formulas, which are also designed to deal with stubborn dry cracked skin. Try this Beauty Pie's Foottopia Super Softening Foot and Heel Cream ($25).
Stock Your Skincare Routine With Humectants
Speaking of humectants, Skotnicki says that glycerin is another great one to add to your elbow care routine. Her pick? Reserveage Hand & Foot Cream. “Hand creams are perfect solutions for elbows as well,” she says. “This sulfate- and paraben-free rich, moisturizing cream intensely hydrates with glycerin and protects dry skin. It is formulated with microencapsulated peptides to help promote the appearance of collagen-rich skin.”
Don’t Rest on Your Elbows
Last but not least, Hartman says that how you treat your elbows outside of your skincare routine matters, too. Specifically, he says not to put so much pressure on them. “Try to not mindlessly rest on your elbow when you’re working, driving, or watching television,” he says. “The more pressure that you apply to the area, the thicker the skin will become in defense.”
Purnamawati S, Indrastuti N, Danarti R, Saefudin T. The role of moisturizers in addressing various kinds of dermatitis: a review. Clin Med Res. 2017;15(3-4):75-87.