The Routine a Dermatologist Wants You to Follow If You Have Dry Skin

a woman just out of the shower wrapped up in a towel

Figuring out what exactly will replenish a lackluster complexion can be frustrating, especially when you have dry skin. If you feel like your skin is still tight no matter how much moisturizing product you pile on, it's probably because you need to try a multifaceted approach with specific steps and ingredients that target those concerns. And it's not as complicated as it sounds. It's actually pretty simple once you know what to look for in the skincare aisle and how to incorporate it into your daily routine.

To find out the exact routine someone with dry skin should follow, we reached out to Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, NYC-based dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology. Before you impulse-purchase that expensive cream because its thick texture looks promising, read through Levin's dry skin tips below. Healthy and hydrated skin ahead. 

How to Figure Out Your Skin Type

First things first, it's important to get to know your skin type. While getting an expert opinion never hurts, there are a few simple ways to figure it out on your own at home. Levin explains that you have dry skin if "your skin feels tight and there are dry patches, you have combination skin if you have an oily T-zone and then dry or tight areas on other parts, and finally, you have dry sensitive skin if you have dry patches, the skin feels tight, and you have redness or even peeling."

Even within the category of dry skin, there are a few sub-types to be cognizant of. This way, you'll be able to better discern what your skin needs to reach its healthy, glowing potential. It's also worth noting that your skin type can fluctuate, especially during seasonal, hormonal, and lifestyle changes. Now we'll get into the nitty-gritty and break down the specific routine to adopt if you have dry skin. 

Muse White Marble Vanity Mirror
CB2 Muse White Marble Vanity Mirror $50

STEP 1: Dry Skin Cleansers

Let's talk cleansers for dry skin. Levin tells us the key to finding a great cleanser that's both gentle and acne-fighting is to look out for glycolic acid. "Using a mild cleanser with a small percentage of glycolic acid chemically exfoliates the skin. My favorite is NeoStrata Foaming Glycolic Cleanser with 18% glycolic acid and lactobionic acid," she tells us. Basically, you want to make sure there's a gentle exfoliant in your cleanser, as this is what ensures skin cell turnover. 

If your skin is both dry and sensitive, Levin recommends incorporating an alpha hydroxy acid product or a gentle exfoliating cleanser like Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub as an option because its fine micro-particles from bamboo extract will buff and soften the skin.

NeoStrata Foaming Glycolic Wash, 3.4 Fluid Ounce
NeoStrata Foaming Glycolic Wash $33
Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser
Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser $34
Cetaphil Extra Gentle Scrub
Cetaphil Extra Gentle Scrub $15

STEP 2: Toners for Dry Skin

If you want to adopt a comprehensive skincare routine, don't overlook the toner step. Even though we often associate this astringent water-like product with oilier skin or breakouts, it can actually be super hydrating and help prep your skin to better absorb the moisturizer you're about to apply. As Levin clarifies, "The most important products for dry skin should focus on promoting a functional and healthy skin barrier in order to prevent trans-epidermal water loss." A good toner will strip the skin of any excess dirt, helping to balance and purify. Levin also suggests you look out for hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid.

REN Clean Skincare Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic 8.5 oz/ 250 mL
REN Clean Skincare Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic $35
Aesop Parsley Seed Anti-oxidant Facial Toner
Aesop Parsley Seed Anti-Oxidant Facial Toner $43
Laneige Essential Power Skin Toner for Normal to Dry Skin 6.7 oz/ 200 mL
Laneige Essential Power Skin Toner for Normal to Dry Skin $28

STEP 3: Serums for Dry Skins

After you've applied your toner, it's time for serum. Serums are great for long-term benefits, so the one you choose depends on your needs, but if you want something that's a jack of all trades, look out for serums containing glycolic acid. "Glycolic acid is one of my favorite anti-aging ingredients for dry skin but slow titration is important," Levin tells us. This is an effective ingredient because it's derived from sugarcane and is also safe during pregnancy, she explains. Thanks to its antioxidant properties, it's an anti-inflammatory and decreases skin cell adhesion.

Levin also emphasizes the importance of starting with a lower concentration and sticking to one anti-aging product at a time. You should also ensure that your serum has other ingredients that minimize irritation/dryness, such as peptides or niacin, she says. 

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos(TM) Glycolic Night Serum 1.69 oz/ 50 mL
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum $134 $90
KORA Organics Hydrating Moisturizer
KORA Organics Hydrating Moisturizer $48
Shiseido Ibuki Refining Moisturizer Enriched 1.7 oz/ 50 mL
Shiseido Ibuki Refining Moisturizer Enriched $54

STEP 4: Moisturizers for Dry Skin

And for the final and probably most obvious step in a dry skin routine: moisturizer. Since it delivers the most immediate results, a lot of it has to do with personal preference. Levin suggests trying humectant-based moisturizers, but she also asserts that these are only going to be truly effective if you apply them right after you wash your face when it's still moist from cleansing. And if you aren't a huge fan of thick, creamier moisturizers, don't worry, you have other options. "Some dry skin patients enjoy using facial oils, which can be very beneficial to soothe inflammation, calm environmental stressors, and replenish hydration depending on the oil ingredients," Levin tells us. 

Drunk Elephant Lala Retro™ Whipped Cream 1.69 oz/ 50 mL
Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Cream $60
Zelens Z-22 Absolute Face Oil
Zelens Z-22 Absolute Face Oil $195
Tata Harper Repairative Moisturizer
Tata Harper Repairative Moisturizer $116

SPF and Other Essentials

As for extra steps, It's also crucial to keep using your sunscreen every day. "I love ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica Ultralight Emulsion SPF 50+ which is an effective sunscreen that also prevents actinic (sun) damage. This is an 11% zinc oxide, which is ultra-lightweight that spreads very easily on the face and body," Levin tells us. 

If you have dry skin, you should definitely think about some of your lifestyle habits, too, and how those may be exacerbating the issue. Of course, drinking plenty of water is key, but there are also some less obvious adjustments that can make a major difference. For example, Levin recommends investing in "a humidifier to restore the moisture in the air for dry skin prone and eczema patients." You can keep a small one at your desk or in your bedroom. 

ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica SPF 50+
ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica SPF 50+ $55
Pure Enrichment Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier
Pure Enrichment Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier $60
VitaJuwel Love ViA Water Bottle
VitaJuwel Love ViA Water Bottle $98

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