The Ultimate Dermatologist-Recommended Dry Skin Routine

Woman applies moisturizer in front of a mirror

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If you have dry skin, you know that finding the perfect skincare routine can mean the difference between a flaky, eternally tight-feeling visage and a comfortable, glowing complexion.

"Dry skin means that your face can't protect itself as well as it should from the environment. When the skin is dry, it develops tiny cracks in the outer layer, interfering with its ability to maintain hydration properly," says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner.

As such, when you have dry skin choosing the right products is incredibly important. But surprisingly, the ones you should be choosing may go against your natural instincts. We asked Zeichner and dermatologist Lian Mack, MD, to give us their expert tips on building the ultimate dry skin routine. Read on for what they had to say.

Meet the Expert

  • Joshua Zeichner, MD, is an associate professor of dermatology and the director of cosmetic & clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
  • Lian Mack, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of GlamDerm.


01 of 07

Start the Day Off Right

"Especially if you have dry skin, your morning prep is important to get your skin ready for the day," says Zeichner. And when it comes to the morning routine, you'll notice a consistent thread throughout the derms recommendations: products that keep moisture in, and harmful UV rays and free radicals out.

"The goal of your morning routine is to protect the skin from the environment," says Zeichner. Adds Mack: "During their morning routines, individuals with dry skin types should aim to hydrate and protect their skin."

02 of 07

Choose a Non-Foaming Cleanser

CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser
CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser $14
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If there's one thing that hasn't changed about our skincare routines since childhood, it's starting the day with a fresh face—literally. When it comes to washing your face, the type of cleanser you choose is key. "Preparing your skin to face the day when it has a tendency to be dry should involve using a gentle, non-foaming cleanser," says Mack. Look for one specifically made with hydrating ingredients. "These products remove dirt and oil without disrupting the outer skin layer the way that some foaming cleansers do," says Zeichner.

Two of Zeichner's favorites also happen to be from the drugstore: Cetaphil's Gentle Skin Cleanser ($11) and CeraVe's Hydrating Face Wash ($14).

03 of 07

Pack an Extra Punch of Moisture

Catrice Hydro Plumping
Catrice Hydro Plumping Serum $10
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After cleansing, Mack suggests upping your moisture game even further. "I recommend adding a vitamin C serum and layering hyaluronic acid on top for an extra surge of moisture," she says. "Hyaluronic acid is a well-known humectant for the skin, pulling water to it and ultimately reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles."

Her choice? Catrice's Hydro Plumping Serum ($10), which contains 1.5 percent hyaluronic acid and "acts like a tall glass of water for dry skin."

04 of 07

Choose a Light Moisturizer

Neutrogena Hydro Boost
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel $24
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While for some a moisturizing SPF is enough hydration for the day, "if someone is really dry, consider applying a moisturizer prior to an SPF of 30 or higher," says Mack.

When it comes to moisturizer shopping, "look for light moisturizers that contain ingredients that can soften rough cells, pull in hydration, and form a protective seal over the surface of the skin," Zeichner says. "Skin oil and skin hydration are two separate issues, and you can actually be way oily in the summer but also lacking hydration," he explains.

Zeichner is a fan of Neutrogena's Hydro Boost Water Gel ($24). "This is jam-packed with hyaluronic acid, which is like a sponge that pulls in water... to hydrate and firm the skin," he says.

And you aren't limited to what you see in the facial moisturizer aisle. "You can even use some body moisturizers on your face if you already have them at home," Zeichner advises, such as Vaseline's Intensive Care Unscented Advanced Repair Lotion ($8), which "uses triple-purified petrolatum to protect the skin, but in a lotion that is so light that it won't weigh the skin down."

05 of 07

Protect Yourself with SPF

Black Girl Sunscreen
Black Girl Sunscreen Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 $19
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Every skin type should be using SPF, and dry skin is no exception. "UV light and pollution cause free radical damage that leads to premature aging," says Zeichner.

Those with dry skin should look for sunscreens that, of course, help the skin lock in moisture. "Rather than a straight sunscreen that you would use for the beach, if you have dry skin look for a moisturizer/sunscreen combo," says Zeichner.

To make sure you're getting proper coverage, look for an SPF that is 30 or higher (makeup with SPF isn't going to cut it), and make sure to re-apply every two hours. Some of our favorites include Black Girl Sunscreen ($19), which is formulated with ingredients including avocado and jojoba (both of which have hydration benefits), and Supergoop's Glow Screen ($36), which includes hyaluronic acid as well as niacinamide—a brightener—and vitamin B5.

06 of 07

End the Day With a Clean Slate (and Even More Moisture)

La Roche-Posay Double Repair Face Moisturizer
LaRoche-Posay Double Repair Face Moisturizer $20
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The first step in your evening routine should be the same as your morning routine, says Mack: a hydrating foaming cleanser.

After cleansing, apply hydrating serums and topicals that can help you further lock in moisture—and avoid those that might undermine your efforts. "If someone is extremely dry, avoid the use of vitamin A derivatives like retinoids and retinol, and reach for your hyaluronic acid serum," she says. "Couple that with a hydrating moisturizer." She likes LaRoche Posay's Toleraine Double Repair Face Moisturizer ($20).

07 of 07

Other Tips and Tricks

  • Don't over-exfoliate: When you see flaky skin, it can be tempting to want to exfoliate it away, but not so fast. "Avoid harsh scrubs and chemical exfoliators, which ultimately can cause more harm than good," Zeichner says. "If you see flaky skin, exfoliating may be your gut reaction, but instead, get your skin what it needs—hydration." Exfoliating can irritate your skin, which in turn can make it flake more. If you must exfoliate, use a light exfoliant. We particularly like Tatcha's Rice Enzyme Powder ($65), but what works for you will ultimately depend on the type of dryness you're experiencing.
  • Make Use of Masks: Masks are another tool in your arsenal for plump, glowing skin. Mack is a big fan of SkinCeuticals Biocellulose Restorative Masque ($120), which can be used bi-weekly as a replenishing treatment. "It helps to hydrate and soothe dry skin," she says.
  • Incorporate Lifestyle Changes: Mack recommends applying your skincare products immediately after the shower or bath ("to help lock in moisture"), sleeping with a humidifier, and drinking at least 64 fl. oz. of water per day.

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