Healthy Ways to Deal with Dry Skin

It’s easy to ignore your skin when it’s doing its job right. For most people, basic washing and a little sunscreen is all they need. But when you have a problem with your skin, it can be all-consuming. Acne can break your self-confidence, eczema can cause itchy rashes, and sunburn can make sleep—and pats on the back—uncomfortable. Even a problem as seemingly simple as dry skin can be painful. 
Dry Skin 101
Dry skin doesn’t discriminate; it can affect anyone. It happens when skin loses too much water or oil. However, as you age, your skin becomes thinner and drier, leaving those in their 40s and beyond more susceptible to dry skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. People living in dry climates and who suffer from other skin diseases (such as eczema and psoriasis) are prone to dry skin as well. Furthermore, washing your hands frequently—common if you’re a health care professional or are around children all day—and swimming can both sap your skin of needed moisture.
Once dry skin sneaks up on you, its symptoms are clear: Your skin may feel itchy, rough, and flaky, and you may experience chapped or cracked lips. Your skin may even crack and bleed if the dryness is severe enough, which can allow germs into the body and cause infection. That's why prevention and treatment of dry skin isn't just about vanity—it's important for your health.
Short-Term Dry Skin Fixes
Fortunately, a few simple steps can help combat skin dryness. First, applying a moisturizer throughout the day can help prevent your skin from losing moisture. The AAD recommends looking for a product that contains petrolatum or lanolin, which help seal moisture into your skin.
If you’re suffering from dry skin, take a look at some of your other habits as well. Long, hot showers can deplete the skin’s moisture, so cutting the length, frequency and temperature of your showers can help, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH also recommends the use of mild soaps instead of harsh cleansers to avoid further irritating the skin. You could also try using a humidifier to add moisture back into the air at home. If you spend a lot of time outside in the cold, cover your skin to protect it and to avoid further irritation.
If these steps don’t work and your dry skin is still hanging around, see your health care provider or a dermatologist. These professionals can prescribe a prescription medication that will give you relief.
Long-Term Skin Health
Healthy, well-balanced diets are beneficial to every organ in your body, including the skin. If you’re looking to promote healthy skin from the inside out for long-term skin health, make sure you’re getting foods rich in these key nutrients.
  • Vitamin A helps the skin function as a barrier to bacteria and viruses. Sources include carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, spinach and kale.
  • Vitamin C also protects cells from damage, helps maintain a healthy immune system and promotes wound healing, which can help you recover from dry skin. Citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit are great sources, as are broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, potatoes and tomatoes.
  • Vitamin E helps protect cells from damage. Sources include certain fortified breakfast cereals, sunflower seeds, almonds and peanut butter.
  • Folate (and folic acid, folate's synthetic counterpart) helps in the production and maintenance of cells. Sources include fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, beans, peas and asparagus.
  • Zinc helps the immune system fight off invaders and speeds up the healing process, so it is a vital nutrient in dry skin recovery. Oysters are the best source of zinc, but red meat, poultry, fortified breakfast cereals, beans and nuts are also good sources.
  • Water. Staying hydrated can help your skin retain necessary moisture. Aim for your eight cups of water daily—maybe more if you're still exhibiting signs of dehydration, which can include dry skin.
When it comes to dry skin, prevention is your best bet. In addition to eating a well-balanced diet, protect your skin from harsh conditions and lotion up regularly to help your skin retain moisture. If those rough patches still appear despite your diligence, see your doctor to avoid suffering from dry skin in any season.
This article has been reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.

American Academy of Dermatology. "Dry Skin," accessed September 2011.
MedlinePlus. "Dry Skin," accessed September 2011.
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. "Folate," "Vitamin A and Carotenoids," "Vitamin E," "Vitamin C," and "Zinc,"accessed September 2011.
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Member Comments

I used to have dry skin. I still do, except where I have developed cellulitis. That skin is so damaged, a little cut can take a year to heal. Report
Not mentioned is alone vera which helps soothe itchy skin, not just burns. I am allergic to lanolin & yes, vaseline on hands w/ gloves over helps hold in moisture but doesn't add any. You must not only drink water, you need fat in your diet. I eat real butter & use both olive or peanut oil when cooking (EVO for some salad dressing) & coconut oil. I eat it plain, use for some cooking, & rub into my worst dry areas like elbows.
For warm baths dissolve 1/4 Cup bentonite clay to offset fluoride & chlorine in municipal water system then add Epsom salt & a little ACV which will help bring the skin's ph back to normal. Moisurize w/in 2 minutes of drying off gently.
If you have no issue w/ fragrances, Avon makes Skin So Soft which is a good cleanser when soap is too drying. All 3 formulas contain shea butter or jojoba oil.
I often skip soap & just use water when winter or the dry desert takes it's toll. A humidifier is very helpful too.
For my lips I use Blistex ointment year round thruout the day then go over it w/ Burt's Bee balm. I take zinc picolinate off & on both to prevent illness like a cold virus & to help healing of chapped skin. It helps also for eczema but don't take daily, it can build up & cause other issues. Report
Thanks. Report
Awesome article! Thanks. Report
I live in Colorado which has very low humidity. It's extremely dry during the winter, not quite as much in the warmer months, but still dry. I have very sensitive skin and have to be careful about what I use to moisturize. A friend suggested Eucerin cream - it's non-scented, extremely moisturizing but not greasy. It's the best thing that's ever worked for me. Report
Good information Report
I don't suffer that much, only sometimes. I then use a hand cream which works Report
Olive oil and Coconut oil works great. Butter is great too for dry lips. We also used to rub vitamin E on the skin as well. Report
thanks..... Report
I use pure cocoa butter as a sun block, moisturizer, for age spots, elbows, knees, feet. Good article, thanks for the reminder! Report
Rarely have dry skin patches. I regularly eat all of the foods recommended in this article to avoid dry skin. Interesting. Report
Good article and I really appreciate all the comments with even more tips. Report
Thank you Report
If in addition to dry skin you have dry eyes and dry mouth you may well have Sjorgen's syndrome. I know because I have developed it. Sjorgen's is an autoimmune disorder to be managed but cannot be cured. I now have eye drops- at the moment just OTC, use dry mouth toothpaste and mouthwash (important because dry mouth that is not due to thirst can lead to decay and gum disease) and have an OTC but expensive lotion. For quick relief in between serious applications, I use a mixture of Nivea and tea tree oil. So far so good. Someone else said lanolin is their answer. I'm actually allergic to lanolin which is an ingredient in so many products. Just like with food, check the label.

So when dry skin is due to weather conditions and overexposure - or not drinking enough water - look to the common cure. Otherwise it may be in your interest to begin with a dermatologist. Report
Petroleum? Seriously?!?!?

I lived at 7500ft of elevation in the Rockies, and the winters were BRUTAL on my skin, it was dry, and flaky *IF* I didn't drink plenty of water, and while still damp from the shower, applying a THIN layer of Shea butter. Report


About The Author

Erin Whitehead
Erin Whitehead
is a health and fitness enthusiast who co-founded the popular website and co-wrote The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (available May 2014). Now busier than ever with two kids, she writes about healthy pregnancy and parenting at