Health & Wellness Articles

Healthy Ways to Deal with Dry Skin

Bring the Life Back to Your Skin with These Healthy Habits

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

  • Good article and I really appreciate all the comments with even more tips.
  • 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.
    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.
  • i suffer horribly from dry skin. nothing has worked to keep my skin from drying out over the days except lanolin (and i have tried it all). i can use lotions, natural oils, etc. for a time but i must reapply them constantly throughout the day. lanolin is the only product that protects my skin in winter and doesnt need to be slathered on me every two hours a day,
  • Petroleum has always left my dry skin/lips sooo much worse!

    I have really bad dry skin in the winter, to the point where it cracks, splits, and bleeds. This year I developed eczema on my hands really bad and the dermatologist had prescribed my 5th prescription for this problem, with not one prescription providing any long-lasting relief. So my sister told me to try this lotion called Working Hands (sold at Home Depot, auto parts stores). Within a week, my hands are almost back to normal! I had my dermatologist look at the ingredients of the Working Hands and she said it looks really good. There were several different ingredients in there that she said should be in a good lotion. And she also reveled in the fact that it is unscented. Apparently scented lotions do more harm than good. And the Working Hands does NOT contain any petrolatum or petroleum or lanolin. So, obviously those aren't essential to relief. 5 prescriptions couldn't solve my problem, but 1 over-the-counter hand cream worked wonders! Worth a serious try!
    Please do not puff up your subject times. The things written in this article will not "get rid of dry skin for good," Don't pat yourself on the back for this one. The title would more properly be, "Some Basic Info about your skin." What is written in the comments is far more useful. Sorry, editor, but this is not the Best of Sparkpeople by a long shot. This is just rehashed words. And this is not the first time I could have said this lately, I am sad to say. There is so much that is so excellent at Sparkpeople. But these editorials are becoming a negative to be avoided.
    My skin is improving by leaps and bounds -- I did a major diet soda cut (I still drink it, but ... one bottle a day, if even) and started drinking half my body weight in water. My skin is softer and healthier than it's been since I was a teenager!
  • http://thebeautyb

    Maybe this article will help, too. It's two cosmetic chemists talking about plant-based moisturizers. It goes along the same lines as this one, but more in depth.
  • Ok...I find that if a dermatologist tells me to put petroleum on their body, I would find another one. You need to look into what is in petroleum jelly!!! It is not good for you at all. About 3 years ago I went to Cozumel and was attacked by sand fleas. I went to their little store at the resort and they told me to put this stuff(ammonia) on it which was on my legs. Let me tell you that after that, my legs are so scaly that I am embarrassed to wear anything that shows them. I am now putting coconut oil on them every day and it is like night and day now! Please use coconut oil and not petroleum jelly!
  • Olive oil is a natural oil, as is coconut, jojoba, and almond oil.
    Petrolatum or petroleum jelly are absorbed into the blood stream where they carry away important nutrients from your body. Temporary fix for a long term problem.
    Lanolin is from the wool of the sheep, and can be used to soften skin. I buy Jojoba oil and use it twice daily after washing my face, just a few drops. It is available on line quite cheaply at vitamin companies.
    As soon as I hop out of the shower, without drying off, I lather all over my body with johnson's baby oil gel and air dry. (I choose the lavender but there are other options) Once completely dry my skin is so soft all day long :) Since the gel is pretty thick I sometimes mix a little jergens shea butter lotion with the baby oil gel and put it in a tiny bottle for a quick and on the go treatment for hands through out the day. (the lotion mixture in the oil gel helps with quicker dry time which is why I say it's great for on the go). Baby oil gel feels sticky at first (without the lotion) but when it dries you won't regret it :) Even if you aren't dry all the way put your clothes on and through out the day once dry you will start feeling aerodynamic lol. I love it :) It feels even better (for those that shave) through out the day when you put the baby oil gel on your legs after shaving! Smoooottth and light :) Hands down Johnson's baby oil gel I say :) Coconut Oil is also good too though :) If you ingest a couple of tablespoons a day of refined virgin coconut oil it helps with your skin from within and you can even put on your skin and hair :)
  • I find the skin on my hands will crack and bleed in the winter. A dermatologist told me to put vaseline on my hands at night and to put on a pair of gloves. I know this sounds odd but trust me it works.
  • I am in Chemo and talk about dry skin but I have it.....The clinic I go to (not CTCA) has me using 1/4 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup Epsom Salt rather than all of the scented moisturizing baths... it really helps!
    Anyone recommending petrolatum etc. needs to update their education! Coconut or almond oil work wonders without all the bad stuff!

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