The Ultimate Dermatologist-Recommended Routine for Dry Skin

Updated 07/26/19
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If you have dry, dehydrated 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, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Medical Center. This is why choosing the right products is incredibly important. But surprisingly, the ones you should be choosing may go against your natural instincts.

Zeichner recommends these things for a dry skincare routine:

Stop Using Harsh Exfoliants

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 will irritate your skin, which in turn will 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.

Choose a Non-Foaming Cleanser

When choosing a cleanser, look for one that's made with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid and doesn't foam. "These products remove dirt and oil without disrupting the outer skin layer the way that some foaming cleansers do."

Gentle Skin Cleanser
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser $14
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This drugstore cleanser, which was most peoples' first face cleanser, comes recommended by Zeichner. 

Hydrating Face Cleanser Face Wash for Normal to Dry Skin
CeraVe Hydrating Face Wash for Normal to Dry Skin $12
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Another Zeichner-appoved cleanser: this one by CeraVe, which contains hyaluronic acid. 

Soy Face Cleanser 6.7 oz/ 200 mL
Fresh Soy Face Cleanser $38
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A classic, milky cleanser that's infused with soothing cucumber extract and balancing rose water. 

Confidence in a Cleanser
It Cosmetics Confidence in a Cleanser $28
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A potent blend of hyaluronic acid, colloidal oatmeal, and ceramides makes this cleanser a good choice for dry skin. 

Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser $15
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A fragrance-free, non-foaming, non-irritating cleanser that contains moisturizing glycerin and niacinamide. 

Choose a Light Moisturizer

"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.

If the weather is starting to get warmer, swap out your normal cream moisturizer for a hydrating gel formula. This keeps your skin hydrated without feeling too heavy.

Hydro Boost Water Gel
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel $24
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"This is jam-packed with hyaluronic acid, which is like a sponge that pulls in water at 1000 times its weight to hydrate and firm the skin," Zeichner says. 

Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream 1.7 oz/ 50 mL
Sunday Riley Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream $65
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The water-cream formula of this moisturizer is lightweight, and it contains two types of hyaluronic acid for super hydration. 

Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair
Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Lotion Unscented $9
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"You can even use some body moisturizers on your face if you already have them at home," Zeichner advises. "For example, this lotion uses triple-purified petrolatum to protect the skin but in a lotion that is so light that it won't weigh the skin down."

Purity Made Simple
Philosophy Purity Made Simple Ultra-Light Moisturizer $24
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This lotion contains both meadowfoam seed oil and chia seed oil, but you'd never guess that based on how light it feels on your skin. The addition of glycerin and sodium hyaluronate make for a super-hydrating quartet. 

The True Cream Aqua Bomb 0.84 oz/ 25 mL
Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb $38
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Oat husk and plantin are two under-the-radar skin hydrators utilized in this cooling gel moisturizer. 

How Should a Morning Routine be Different From a Nighttime One?

"The goal of your morning routine is to protect the skin from the environment," Zeichner says. "UV light and pollution cause free radical damage that lead to premature aging. Especially if you have dry skin, your morning prep is important to get your skin ready for the day."

Ultra-Calming Moisturizer SPF 15
Aveeno Ultra-Calming Moisturizer SPF 15 $19
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"Apply your sunscreen every morning. Rather than a straight sunscreen that you would use for the beach, if you have dry skin look for a moisturizer/sunscreen combo. My go to recommendation for dry or sensitive skin is Aveeno Ultra Calming Daily Moisturizer Broad-Spectrum SPF 15 ($19). It protects the skin barrier with colloidal oatmeal, calms inflammation with feverfew extract and uses mineral sunscreen protection that shouldn't irritate dry skin."

Sunlight Daily Facial Moisturizing Sunscreen
Crunchi Sunlight Facial Sunscreen $48
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Indie brand Crunchi has created a moisturizer/sunscreen combo for the most conscious consumer. It's free from any ingredients that are toxic to humans (you can see the brand's blacklist here), but it's also free from any that are toxic to coral, making it "reef-safe". But perhaps the best part is that it doesn't leave wearers with greasy skin.

Your Skin But Better Oil-Free Matte
It Cosmetics CC+ Cream Oil-Free Matte with SPF 40 $39
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It Cosmetics CC+ cream is so popular that it's been released in many iterations, the most recent being this beauty. It's great for the days where summer makes skin too red, but you can't wear foundation for fear of it melting off. Moisturizer, tint, and sunscreen in one makes for a quick, up-and-out routine.

Opening Image: Mango

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