3 Types of Skin Care Ingredients for Dry Skin

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 17, 2021
4 min read

Dry, flaky skin probably isn’t your idea of a perfect complexion. The dryness may make you feel self-conscious about how you look. It may also result in sensitive, painful skin.

Combining the right products with the right skin care techniques can make all the difference for dry, sensitive skin. Learning to manage dry skin can help you look and feel your best. 

Skin naturally produces sebum, an oil that locks in moisture and protects the skin from drying out. Some people produce less sebum than others. This may cause your skin to feel dry. You may notice that frequent washing, dry weather conditions, or certain medications leave your skin dry.  ‌

Rich ingredients like oils and butters help lock in moisture. They help keep skin protected from dry air and soothe irritation.

  • Shea butter. Shea butter comes from the oils of the shea tree, which is native to Central Africa. The rich oils are used in skin care products as well as hair care products. It’s an emollient that coats skin in healthy oils.
  • Jojoba oil. Oils and wax from the jojoba shrub are effective moisturizing ingredients. There are also synthetic versions that are just as effective as the natural ingredient. You can find them in hair conditioners as well as in moisturizers for the skin.
  • Lanolin. Lanolin is an oil that comes from sheep wool. It’s a heavy ingredient that replaces lost moisture in the skin. It also has healing effects, so it may help cracked or sore skin feel better. ‌

Certain acids are good for sensitive skin. They can clean dirt and dead skin cells without irritating your skin. They can also help repair the surface layers of your skin.

  • Hyaluronic acid. This acid is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in your hair and skin. It’s used in moisturizers because it combines with water to swell and hold moisture in the skin. You can find it in many creams, lotions, and serums. ‌
  • Lactic acid. This alpha hydroxy acid is a humectant, which means it draws moisture to it and collects the molecules around it. It’s derived from milk. It’s a mild exfoliant that clears dullness without drying or irritating your skin.
  • Salicylic acid. Cleansers with alcohol can dry out your skin, so steer clear of them when choosing face and body washes. Alcohol strips away the oil that your skin produces naturally. It also dries out the surface of your skin, making it more prone to flaking, itching, or soreness. Look for ingredients like salicylic acid, which can dissolve dirt and oil without stripping the skin.

When cleaning your skin, be gentle. Dry skin responds best to gentle treatment. Use warm water instead of hot water when you shower or wash your face. Don’t scrub the skin too hard while cleaning, and only use enough cleanser to remove obvious dirt and oil.

Pat your skin dry instead of vigorously rubbing with a towel. Leave your skin a little damp on the surface, then apply moisturizers to lock in as much moisture as possible.

You want products with "slip" that are easy to spread on your skin. You won't need to rub hard to get good coverage when you apply them.

  • Glycerin. Glycerin is a moisturizing ingredient derived from plants. It's another humectant that draws water to your skin. When used in skin care products, it draws water from the air, leaving the surface skin better moisturized. It's also very smooth and spreads easily.
  • Dimethicone. This silicone is used in many skin and hair care products because it can help create smooth texture. It coats the skin and prevents water loss from evaporation. You can find it in many skin creams and lotions.

Using the right skin care ingredients can help your dry skin feel soft and smooth. Combining the right products with these tips can help improve the look and feel of your skin.

Don’t use fragrances. You may also find that products with fragrances aggravate your dry skin. Look for labels that say “fragrance-free” instead of “unscented.” Fragrance-free means there are no fragrance ingredients in the formula, whereas unscented products have ingredients to neutralize other scents. Those ingredients can be irritating.

Humidify your environment. Keeping the air in your home moist can help keep your skin from drying out. A humidifier will add water to the air. This can be helpful during the winter months or if you live in a dry climate. Choose a cool mist humidifier. Humidifiers that create warm steam can dry skin out from the heat they emit.

Talk to your doctor. If home care doesn’t help your dry skin, call a dermatologist. They can diagnose any underlying conditions and help you decide what combination of ingredients will work best for your skin. If you have severely dry skin, you may need treatment with steroids to clear up the irritation.