Itchy, flaky skin. At times, it may seem like there is no beauty problem that's worse. The good news is that you are not alone in that thought. Dry skin, specifically on legs, is extremely common and surprisingly easy to fight if you have the right tips and tricks. Dry skin can come from a number of different things—hot showers, shaving, the weather, and more. Outside of hot showers, these are things we, unfortunately, can't control. On the other hand, creating a regime tailored to your skin's specific needs is something you can control.
To learn more about how to fight against this dreaded, itchy issue, we consulted celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas and certified dermatologist Dr. Loretta Ciraldo. Their tips and product recommendations—along with a few of our own—will help in creating a routine that nourishes skin and protects it from dryness.
Meet the Expert
- Joanna Vargas is a celebrity facialist whose client roster includes Mindy Kaling, Jenna Dewan, and Julianne Moore. She has two salons (NYC and L.A.) and is the creator of her eponymous line of skincare.
- Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, is a highly sought-after board-certified dermatologist with over 40 years of experience. She is an avid clinical researcher, published author, and regular on-camera expert.
Read on to get the scoop on everything from dry brushing to body oil, and say goodbye to flaky legs for good.
What Causes Flaky Legs?
Curious about why dry skin appears most often on your legs? Ciraldo tells us that our skin has a dead cell layer, called stratum corneum, which is thicker on the leg area and why that is the place we so often see flaking and dry skin.
According to Vargas, dry skin on your legs can be caused by several things like sun exposure, lack of exfoliation, and even airplane travel. Too-hot showers or scented lotions, (which usually contain alcohol) can also dry out your skin.
Winter weather, though, is generally the driving force in dry skin. "In colder weather skin's dead cell shedding slows down and skin produces less healthy surface skin oils that hydrate skin surface in warmer months," says Ciraldo.
Use a Dry Brush or a Buff Puff
A daily dry-brushing ritual will help boost the circulation around your entire body, and the rough bristles will also work to dislodge any rough, dry skin cells clinging onto the surface of the legs. Not only that, but Vargas adds that "Dry brushing increases blood flow, which is healthy, but its main purpose is to stimulate collagen production which will help to thicken the skin and lessen the appearance of fat cells."
Pre-shower, sweep the skin brush in upwards motions. "Start at the tops of the feet and brush upward toward the heart. Dry brushing immediately increases circulation, so you will feel warmer when you are done," she says. Don't press too hard—it should feel vigorous but not painful.
Another physical exfoliator you can use—as recommended by Ciraldo—is a body buff puff. Like a dry brush, a buff puff exfoliates away dry, dead skin for a smoother, brighter appearance. Try prepping your skin with it before shaving or going out into the sun.
Exfoliate With a Scrub
"Exfoliation is my secret weapon to having great skin," Vargas says. You can even make your own scrub at home by combining a cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup coconut oil, and 1/4 cup honey. "The brown sugar is super soft on the skin but is just strong enough to really clean out your pores. I recommend exfoliating twice per week in summer and once a week for winter." Coconut oil deeply moisturizes, and honey is a known antimicrobial, meaning it fights germs while also having the ability to help heal skin. Plus, these ingredients make an all-natural scrub. A win-win.
For a non-DIY option, we love this brown sugar body exfoliator from Fresh, which is made with a blend of evening primrose, sweet almond, apricot kernel, and jojoba oils. You'll be so distracted by the sweet scent you won't even realize your dead skin is being scrubbed away.
Swap to a Body Oil
Ever stopped to consider whether it might be your body wash that's drying out your legs? Quickly make the switch to a nourishing oil-based formula, like Glossier's. Unlike soapy versions, this one won't strip the skin, and it also doesn't linger like an unwanted veil of grease—the oil foams up and washes away, leaving behind only a light hit of hydration. Vargas also says that oil helps soothe troubled skin, not only moisturizing but also reducing redness and irritation. It'll cleanse your legs of any dirt and dead skin that's built up during the day, and it smells amazing, too.
Look for Ingredients like Salicylic Acid
The salicylic acid in this body oil practically peels back those scaly dead skin cells, and the (completely natural) canary yellow shade of the oil itself applies something like a color filter over legs, making them look brighter and healthier. Not only does salicylic acid help exfoliate away dry skin it will also help prevent any red bumps or ingrown hairs you may get from shaving or other hair removal methods.
If you want to treat yourself, you can also go to the spa for some serious exfoliation. Vargas offers a full-body exfoliation (with a massage!) using freshly grated coconut compresses. Talk about paradise.
Go for a Nourishing Lotion
Using a nourishing and hydrating lotion after exfoliating is key. Ciraldo suggests using the CeraVe Moisturizing Cream. "CeraVe Cream is loaded with ceramides, the healthy skin oils that work to give us good barrier function, meaning they trap moisture into damp skin," she adds. "This product leaves a silky feel and increases skin luminosity in just one use. If you apply it in the morning, there is a good chance your skin will look lustrous until evening." Sign us up!
Try a Cooling Spray
While Susanne Kaufmann's clever spray is intended to stop that itchy feeling and revive tired legs (it's a godsend for flights, by the way), the fact that it boosts circulation—along with the hydration provided by sunflower and wheat germ oils—makes it the perfect finishing product for the driest of legs. Plus, it's nearly mess-free since it's a spray. No need to get lotion or oil all over your hands, and it's perfect for situations when you need a quick and reliable dose of hydration.
Spend Some Extra Time in the Shower
The best place to start your dry skin regime is right in the shower. Ciraldo tells us to start with a fragrance-free body wash. She is a particular fan of the Dove Fragrance-Free Body Wash. Side note: Products that are scented sometimes contain alcohol, which only dries out your skin more.
Then, she says to go in with an exfoliator and end with a moisturizing cream. Yes, it may sound like a lot, but trust us, this routine will get the job done.
Are there clinical causes for dry skin on legs?
The dry skin on your legs could also come from a clinical issue such as eczema or psoriasis. It can be hard to tell the difference between a skin disease and regular dry skin since they all have similar symptoms, but if your dry skin persists, you should consult your doctor or dermatologist to find out more.
Can shaving irritate dry skin on legs?
Shaving dry skin may cause irritation, but to prevent this, make sure you use a moisturizing shaving gel. Also, avoid any shaving product with alcohol listed in the first few ingredients because that may cause further dryness.
Cleveland Clinic. Dry skin: prevention. Updated May 13, 2020
Cleveland Clinic. The truth about dry brushing and what it does for you. Updated January 26, 2015.
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Ogunbiyi A. Pseudofolliculitis barbae; current treatment options. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2019;12:241-247. doi:10.2147/CCID.S149250