This dermatologist-recommended process is the secret to glowing skin.

By Linley Sanders
Updated September 03, 2020
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When cold 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 it has to do with an everyday ritual: your shower. That long, steaming morning rinse feels amazing, but it can exacerbate your skin's dryness. (So can over washing, 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. But you don't need to 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.

African American woman applying face moisturizer in the mirror
Credit: Ridofranz/Getty Images

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 such as 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 like CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion ($12, Target) or Aveeno Skin Relief Moisture Repair Cream ($8, Ulta) if you want a heavier cream.

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 skincare approach and do not want to be exposed to preservatives that can be included in over-the-counter products," Wainwright says. Although 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 the 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 non-comedogenic petroleum jelly ($4, Walmart), or a protective cream such as Aquaphor Healing Ointment ($4, Walgreens).

Prefer something lighter? Wainwright recommends CeraVe's P.M. lotion ($19, Ulta) 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 fine to scrub high-bacteria areas (such as 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 over scrubbing the face or body.

Step 2: Wash the face with a gentle, hydrating wash such as CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser ($15, DermStore). 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. We recommend Kiehl's Ultra Facial Moisturizer ($22, Nordstrom), which will help the skin's barrier recover from drying elements.

Should I Have a Different Skincare Routine at Night?

Before bedtime, it's essential to remove makeup and dirt without stripping the 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 over-drying) 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 over scrubbing the face. If needed, use a moisturizing makeup remover without any alcohol.

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

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

Step 4: Use an evening facial moisturizer. Try the top-rated Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Moisturizer ($68, Sephora).

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

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