Ready to ditch your dry skin for good? This dermatologist-approved daily moisturizing routine is easy to follow, and it can be adapted for every season and skin type.

By Linley Sanders
Updated December 31, 2019

When cool weather hits, dry skin can derail even the best moisturizing routines. But there's a little secret behind why many Americans struggle with irritated skin, and has to do with an everyday ritual: your shower. That long, steaming morning rinse may feel great, but it can actually exacerbate your skin's dryness. So can overwashing, too much scrubbing, and vigorously toweling off. These simple, seemingly harmless actions tend to compound the already-harsh effects of sun exposure, wind, and low humidity. The result? Dry spots and dull complexions that stick around until the season changes.

Don't swear off your morning shower in the winter, says CareMount Medical dermatologist Brent Wainwright, M.D., who is also a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology—but do keep a few best practices in mind. Here are his tips for shopping for moisturizers, plus what to do daily (and nightly) to transform your skin from dehydrated to dewy.

Image courtesy of Getty.
Over the shoulder shot of an attractive young woman looking at her reflection in a mirror

What Are the Best Moisturizers for Dry Skin?

Daily Moisturizers

Not all moisturizers are created equal. Wainwright advises patients with dry skin to use moisturizing products that contain ceramides. Ceramides are a type of lipid or fat found naturally in the skin, and they play a vital role in forming the skin's protective barrier. Exposure to drying elements like low humidity and high wind can deplete the skin of its ceramides and lead to more dryness. To replenish the skin's natural moisture barrier, pick a drugstore-friendly salve with ceramides (try CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion, $10.49)  or a heavier cream (try Aveeno Skin Relief Moisture Repair Cream, $10.96).

Another often-overlooked factor is commitment. If you discontinue use because the moisturizer's fragrance or consistency is off-putting, your skin won't reap its benefits.

Natural Oils

Natural skincare lovers often boast of the benefits of grapeseed oil and rosehip oil for dry skin and hair. "I do often recommend oils for patients who want a natural skin care approach and do not want to be exposed to preservatives that can be included in over-the-counter products," Wainwright says. While these nourishing beauty oils can effectively remedy some dry skincare concerns, Wainwright says the natural oils may not be powerful enough to treat extremely dry skin.

Night Creams

Applying a heavier night cream before bed allows skin to lock in moisture and repair itself as you sleep. Thicker, dermatologist-approved night creams can be found online or at your local drugstore. Wainwright suggests a noncomedogenic petroleum jelly (try Vaseline, $4.49), or a protective cream (try Aquaphor Healing Ointment, $14.26).

Prefer something lighter? Wainwright recommends CeraVe's P.M. lotion, $14.85, as a facial moisturizer for nighttime (it's also useful for clearing up acne-prone skin).

What Is the Correct Order to Apply Skin Care?

It's OK to scrub high-bacteria areas (like the underarms) in the shower, but the skin on your face needs a more delicate treatment. Start by carefully washing the face with a gentle, nonfoaming cleanser to remove extra oil, grease, and makeup, then lightly pat skin dry; rubbing it with a towel can cause further irritation. Apply your daytime facial moisturizer within two or three minutes of exiting the shower unless you are using a prescribed skincare product. "If you use the medication after a moisturizer, then you may actually prevent its absorption. But, if you're just starting your day, you should use a light moisturizer with some type of sun protection as your base." Follow this five-step routine:

Step 1: Take a quick morning shower with warm water; wash with a gentle cleanser and avoid overscrubbing the face or body.

Step 2: Wash the face with a gentle, hydrating wash (try CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser, $15.38). Lightly rinse off the cleanser with a few splashes of cool water.

Step 3: Pat the face and body dry with a towel.

Step 4: Apply any specialized therapeutic products or medical treatments to the face, if needed. This can include any acne or eczema prescriptions from a dermatologist.

Step 5: Apply a light facial moisturizer with SPF and ceramides, which will help the skin's barrier recover from drying elements.

Should I Have a Different Skincare Routine at Night?

Before bedtime, it's important to remove makeup and dirt without stripping skin of necessary oils. Wainwright recommends using the same gentle cleanser in the morning and evening, and he says washing the face twice a day is more than enough to remove extra oil, dirt, and makeup. Skip astringent products with alcohol (they can cause overdrying) and finish by applying a nighttime facial lotion. Follow this five-step overnight moisture routine:

Step 1: Wash the face with a gentle, hydrating cleanser to remove any makeup and dirt while avoiding overscrubbing the face. If needed, use a moisturizing makeup remover without any alcohol.

Step 2: Pat the face dry with a clean towel, being careful to not over-rub the skin.

Step 3: Add any specialized medical treatments to the face, if needed.

Step 4: Use an evening facial moisturizer (try CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, $15.06).

Step 5: Apply noncomedogenic petroleum jelly or protective cream to other dry parts of the body, like the elbows or hands.


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