What to Do About Dry, Flaky Skin

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Whether your skin is dry throughout the year, or becomes drier the more that winter approaches, dry and flaky skin is never fun to deal with. 

From the best types of moisturizer to use to skin-soothing shower tips, here are some steps that you can take to help hydrate and nourish any dry and flaky skin. 

Use a Thick and Greasy Moisturizer

You likely already know how important a moisturizer is when it comes to treating dry and flaky skin, but, in order for this to really be effective, you need to be using the right moisturizer. 

When it comes to choosing a moisturizer…

There are three main groups of ingredients that you need to be aware of: 

  • Emollients – these contain lipids, also known as fats, that already exist on the skin, and work by lubricating the skin in order to keep it soft and smooth, while filling in any gaps between skin cells to clear dryness and make the skin more flexible. Popular emollients for dry skin include shea butter, stearic acid, colloidal oatmeal and collagen.
  • Humectants – these draw in moisture from the air to the skin, while helping the skin to hold on to this. Popular humectants for dry and flaky skin include hyaluronic acid, urea, glycerin and alpha hydroxy acids. 
  • Occlusives – these form a very thin film over the surface of the skin, reducing the amount of moisture that is lost through evaporation. Popular occlusives for dry skin include olive oil, petroleum jelly, lanolin and silicone. 

So, why does your moisturizer need to be thick and greasy? 

Because this means that they contain oil-based occlusives. These naturally have a greasier and heavier texture, but do a much better job at moisturizing dry skin than water-based ingredients. 

Of course, if you want your moisturizer to really be effective, you need to make sure that you always apply it to damp, rather than dry, skin. 


Well, as mentioned above, the primary role of oil-based occlusives is to form a thin layer over the surface of the skin, so that water has a much harder time evaporating. If you do this when there already is water on the skin, this means that you end up trapping that excess water into your skin. Rather than evaporating off of your skin, which it would have otherwise done, it will now end up penetrating into your skin’s layers and giving your skin an extra dose of moisture. 

Use a Gentle and Mild Cleanser

You may think that you need a strong cleanser in order to clear away any dry patches and flakes, but this is the opposite of what you need. 

If your skin is dry and flaky, then this means that your skin’s natural protective barrier has been compromised in some way, which is why your skin is having a much harder time retaining moisture. 

You need to help this barrier to heal. Ingredients that you can use to help strengthen your skin’s natural barrier will be discussed in more detail further on, but, in the meantime, you need to ensure that you are not causing even more damage to this protective layer. 

A strong cleanser is fantastic for stripping away any excess oils on the skin, which is what those with oily skin need. However, those with dry skin desperately need to hold on to any extra oils they may have, as these help to form the skin’s protective layer. 

This is why a mild cleanser is imperative, as it will still clean your skin but without drying it out. 

If you can find a cleanser that is pH-balanced, this would be even more beneficial. 


Because the majority of cleansers out there end up disrupting the pH level of the skin’s surface, causing this to become more alkaline and exacerbating dryness. 

Can’t find a pH-balanced cleanser? 

Using a toner after your cleanser can help your skin’s pH levels to readjust back to normal. A toner will also contain ingredients that will soothe your skin, giving it some extra hydration.

When searching for a toner for dry skin, keep an eye out for some of these ingredients: 

  • Chamomile
  • Aloe Vera
  • Glycerin
  • Cucumber Extract 
  • Vitamin E 

Adjust Your Showering Habits

Do you find a long, hot and steamy shower to be relaxing? 

For most people, the answer will be yes, but this is one of the worst things that you can do if you have dry and flaky skin. 


Well, let’s begin with the heat…

As mentioned above, your skin’s natural protective barrier consists of oils, and it is so important to keep this intact as much as possible if you want to combat any dryness. 

However, hot water strips away your skin’s natural oils, damaging your skin’s protective barrier even more

Layers of skin illustration

Wondering what temperature the water should be? 

As cool as you can handle, which is usually slightly above room temperature. 

When it comes to how long you stay in the water for…

This should always be kept under ten minutes. Even if your water is warm, rather than hot, moisture still ends up being sucked away from your skin. The longer you stay in the water for, the more this happens, which is why it is important to keep your showers short. 

Once you are done in the shower…

It is important not to start rubbing at your skin with your towel in order to dry it. This will only aggravate it, while removing any excess moisture that could have otherwise been extremely beneficial for your skin. 

As mentioned above, applying a moisturizer while your skin is still damp can make a huge difference to dryness and flakiness. Rather than rubbing your skin dry, pat it gently with a towel, and then moisturize your face and body while it is still damp. 

Strengthen Your Skin’s Natural Barrier

As discussed earlier, your skin’s natural barrier is key when it comes to tackling dryness, as this is the part of your skin that is responsible for retaining moisture. 

If you already have dry and flaky skin, then this means that something has damaged your barrier. 

What causes this damage? 

A number of different factors can contribute to this, including: 

  • Environmental pollutants 
  • Sun exposure 
  • Harsh skin care ingredients
  • Over-exfoliation 
  • Genetic

Of course, it is important to try to identify what has caused this damage, so that you can tackle this problem at its root. 

However, in the meantime, there are several ingredients that you can turn to to help strengthen your skin’s natural barrier. 

These include: 

  • Ceramides – these are the lipids that are present in between your skin cells. When there are more ceramides in your skin, your skin’s barrier will work better, making this a great ingredient to apply topically
  • Niacinimide – increases the rate at which your skin naturally produces its own ceramides 
  • Vitamin E – stabilizes and strengthens the skin’s natural barrier 
  • Shea Butter – contains fatty acids that improve the skin’s barrier 
  • Jojoba Oil – restores the lipids contained in the skin’s barrier, therefore strengthening it

Wondering which products are best for delivering these ingredients to your skin? 

Look for the above ingredients in both serums and moisturizers. Serums will penetrate deeper into your skin’s layers, bringing about a long-term change, while moisturizers work on the skin’s surface.

Always Wear a Sunscreen

Sunscreen is something that everybody should always be wearing, no matter their skin type. 

However, if you have dry and flaky skin, then sunscreen is something that becomes even more important. 


Because the sun’s UV rays cause so much damage to the skin, not only significantly reducing its moisture content but also breaking down the skin’s barrier, which therefore means that even more moisture ends up evaporating. 

A sunscreen will prevent all of this from happening, giving your skin the UV protection that it needs. 

In terms of choosing a sunscreen…

You have two main options: 

  • Physical Sunscreens – these contain minerals that deflect the sun’s rays away from the surface of the skin, preventing them from entering into the skin 
  • Chemical Sunscreens – these contain ingredients that absorb the sun’s UV rays and then trigger a chemical reaction, rendering these rays harmless and then emitting them from the body as heat

physical vs chemical sunscreen

Which one is better for dry skin? 

They are both effective, but if your dryness is accompanied by sensitivities, then a physical sunscreen will work better for you. Chemical sunscreens are also great, but the chemicals used within them can sometimes irritate the skin, which will end up exacerbating dryness. 

Use a Chemical Exfoliant 

Exfoliating is sometimes the most effective immediate fix for flaky skin, but the method of exfoliation you choose can have a huge impact over the long term health of your skin. 

Exfoliants can usually be categorized as one of the following: 

  • Manual Exfoliants – these feature an abrasive material, such as a scrub or a sponge, that is rubbed against the skin in order to dislodge any dirt or dead skin cells, enabling them to be washed away 
  • Chemical Exfoliants – these contain certain chemicals that dissolve the glue-like substance that holds dead skin cells to the surface of the skin

Why are chemical exfoliants better for dry skin? 

For a couple of different reasons…

Since dry skin tends to be more fragile, the abrasiveness of manual exfoliants can sometimes cause more damage than good, resulting in micro-tears across the skin. The scrubbing action required for manual exfoliation also irritates dry skin and damages the already-delicate skin barrier. 

While chemical exfoliants may sound harsh, due to the fact that acids are involved, they are actually extremely gentle, so long as you choose the right exfoliant. 

Which is the right exfoliant? 

Well, you have two choices – alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids. 

While beta hydroxy acids are best for oily skin, due to the way in which they penetrate deep into the pores and clear out oil, alpha hydroxy acids are much gentler, making them perfect for exfoliating dry skin. 

The two most effective AHAs for dry skin, as well as the most researched, are glycolic acid and lactic acid. In addition to exfoliating your skin, these acids will also hydrate your skin, repair sun damage and slow down the rate at which your skin ages, making them so multi-functional. 

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to exfoliating…

It may be tempting to exfoliate more often, especially when you see how smooth and soft your skin is after using an alpha hydroxy acid. 

However, over-exfoliation is something that you need to be aware of. 

Exfoliating too often, especially if you have dry skin, will lead to a significant amount of damage being caused to your skin’s barrier. This will then exacerbate your dryness while contributing to a wide range of other skin issues, from redness and inflammation to breakouts. 

How often should you be exfoliating? 

No more than twice a week is best for dry skin. If your dry skin is especially sensitive, then you may be best off exfoliating just once a week. 

How do you know if you have been over-exfoliating? 

You will experience some of the following symptoms: 

  • Skin feels drier and tighter 
  • Inflammation and redness 
  • Increased sensitivity 
  • An itching or burning sensation 
  • Breakouts 
  • Rough and peeling skin 

If you do notice these symptoms, it is important to stop exfoliating in order to give your skin a chance to heal. Use more of the skin barrier-repairing ingredients mentioned above, and do not exfoliate any more until your skin has become stronger. 

Dry and flaky skin can be frustrating to deal with, and it only makes sense that you will want a quick fix to this. From exfoliating with a chemical exfoliant to keeping your skin constantly moisturized, these tips will help you to keep your skin hydrated, treating any dryness while preventing more flaky patches from appearing. 

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