Putting together a skin-care routine can be overwhelming. From cleansers and moisturizers to sunscreens and retinols, there are dozens of potential elements that could go into your day. Before you buy anything, though, it’s important to understand your skin type and your individual needs and goals. A product that might be your friend’s holy grail could be a total dud for you if you have very different skin types — and sometimes even if you don’t. Fortunately, here at the Strategist, we’ve talked to lots of dermatologists and facialists over the years to learn what ingredients and formulas work best for all different types of skin. Based on the many recommendations we’ve gathered plus our own intrepid testing, we’re putting together a new series of routines for oily and sensitive skin. Next up: dry skin.
Dry and dehydrated skin often feels tight, especially right after cleansing. With dry skin, you might notice itchiness, flaking, and rough patches, and your skin may be more sensitive to certain exfoliating acids or acne treatments. Look for products with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides, which help restore the skin’s protective barrier. If you’re going to splurge on one item in your routine, consider a rich moisturizer that’ll make even the driest skin feel dewy. Read on for some of our favorite dermatologist-approved products for boosting moisture and managing dryness.
No matter your skin type, a good cleanser is a vital first step for washing away makeup and dirt — but if you have dry skin, it’s important to find one that’s not too stripping. Because of its creamy texture and moisturizing properties, dermatologists recommend this budget-friendly face wash. “It contains ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid, which help to hydrate and keep moisture in the skin,” says dermatologist Alexandra Gold.
While oily skin types are more prone to acne, it’s still possible to have pimples if your skin is dry. If that describes you, look for cleansers that mildly exfoliate the skin to get deep into the pore but are still gentle enough that they won’t be irritating. This foaming cleanser from EltaMD ticks both boxes, according to dermatologist Jessie Cheung of Cheung Aesthetics. “I like how it bubbles while it’s working to draw impurities out of my skin, and how it leaves my skin soft and moist,” she says. Unlike other products that use harsh acids for exfoliation, this one contains the much more mild bromelain, an enzyme derived from pineapples, so it’s safe for everyday use even if you have dry skin.
There are few skin-care ingredients that do quite as much as vitamin C. It can reduce inflammation, fight free-radical damage, brighten skin, diminish fine lines and wrinkles, and minimize the appearance of discoloration and dark spots, according to dermatologists we’ve interviewed. Lots of formulas are appropriate for dry skin (including the “holy grail” SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic serum that contains moisturizing vitamin E), but dermatologist Rhonda Klein, of Modern Dermatology of Connecticut and PURE BioDerm, especially likes this Obagi serum because it has hyaluronic acid to treat and prevent dryness.
Retinol is another all-star ingredient that deserves a place in your routine. A form of vitamin A, it’s considered the gold standard for treating wrinkles and acne by speeding up skin-cell turnover and stimulating the production of collagen. Some retinol creams can be irritating, though, so you’ll have to be careful in choosing the right one. Dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, owner of Dallas-based practice Houshmand Dermatology, recommends this Avène cream that also contains hydrating thermal spring water. “It is a pro-elastin peptide that helps with fine lines to firm and has vitamin E, which helps with free-radical damage and protects against damaging sun rays,” she says.
Now we’re getting into the meat of a dry-skin routine: hydration and moisture. Even before you layer on your moisturizer, apply a hyaluronic-acid serum for an extra hydration boost. As our beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton explains, “Hyaluronic-acid serums hydrate by penetrating deep down into the skin and increasing the skin’s overall water content.” This gel-based formula is one of her favorites. As she says, “It will immediately look juicier and healthier, without feeling tacky or greasy.”
Next up, you’ll want a nice, thick moisturizer to lock in your hydrating serum and protect the skin from drying out. Our top pick for dry skin is technically branded as a body cream, but dermatologists say its hydrating humectants like glycerin and skin-softening emollients like glyceryl stearate and sweet almond oil make it perfect for treating dry facial skin. Dermatologist Rachel Nazarian says it’s “incredibly lightweight and comfortable for daily use throughout the year” and free of any “irritating fragrances or perfumes. Plus, as Rita Linkner, of Spring Street Dermatology, points out, “The price point on this line of moisturizers makes it a no-brainer,” so you won’t feel guilty for generously slathering it on.
If you are willing to spend a little extra, though, this SkinCeuticals cream is worth the price. It’s rich in lipids, like natural cholesterol, pure ceramides, and fatty acids, which are naturally depleted in the skin over time. Deanne Mraz Robinson, a partner at Modern Dermatology and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital, says these anti-aging ingredients “help reinforce the skin’s barrier and help the skin retain moisture.”
Called the “secret to rich-person skin” by Kathleen Hou, beauty director of the Cut, and “the most coveted cream in the industry” by Rio, this lush moisturizer has a glowing reputation to justify its somewhat extravagant price tag. For nights when you want to really seal in moisture, this cream does the work of a routine’s worth of hydrating products. Aesthetician Joanna Czech says its powerhouse ingredients, like peptides and amino acids, are “super-repairing” and “stimulate skin’s natural process of rejuvenation.”
We shouldn’t have to remind you that a full-spectrum sunscreen is a year-round essential for all skin types to prevent burning and long-term sun damage (not to mention wrinkles and dark spots). But for dry skin, dermatologist Marnie Nussbaum recommends this Coola lotion that combines sun protection with hydration. “It has a lot of antioxidants” — including aloe juice, grape-seed oil, and other plant-based moisturizers — “so it helps the skin repair itself,” she says.
You might be familiar with SK-II’s beloved facial-treatment essence, and these sheet masks contain the same potent ingredient: Pitera, a proprietary yeast extract that’s said to reduce wrinkles and brighten skin. While they aren’t the cheapest masks, Rio admits she always has a few in her medicine cabinet because they’re so effective. “It makes me look like I have the dewiest, freshest, softest skin of all time after I use it,” she says. Rebel Wilson is also a fan, telling us it “gives you that hydrated, glowy skin” and is “incredibly plumping.”
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