4 fixes for really dry flakey skin

Hi Dr. Irwin! I think I have dry skin. I know that there's a difference between having dry and having dehydrated skin, but my forehead and cheeks are flaky all year round... I am Irish, so my skin is already pale and sensitive to products and the sun, but I don't have eczema. I try and limit the products I use, wash my face once a day with Cetaphil, put on mineral sunscreen in the morning, and moisturizer regularly. I don't wear much makeup besides the occasional mascara, brow pencil, and lipstick. Nothing seems to be working. I've tried using a chemical exfoliants every other week to remove some of the dry/dead skin cells and help moisturize better. It's helped some, but not much. Physical exfoliants generally irritate my skin and make it more dry. As a result of being dry my skin is extra reactive and sensitive and I even get a few pimples! I've had bad results with using heavier moisturizers that have Dimethicone in them. Is there anything I can do to help repair the lipid layer of my skin long term? Are there any products or therapies you would suggest?

I’m so glad you asked this!! Here are the top 4 reasons for really dry flakey skin and their fixes.  🙂

1.  Sensitive skin and irritant skin reactions

Some people have very sensitive skin and are dry and flakey due to chemical irritation from their skincare products. And yes, sometimes even to very bland products like Cetaphil or Vanicream. This is easy to test.

The fix:

Put all your products in a drawer temporarily. For 1-2 weeks, use only an organic or natural cleanser and moisturizer. If there is something on the ingredient list you don’t recognize, don’t buy it. Use only these two products for two weeks. If you are clear at that time, try adding your former products back into your regimen one at a time a week apart. You’ll be able to tell which product is causing it. If not clear in two weeks, please see your dermatologist.

2.  Inherited dry skin associated with eczema/asthma/allergies (atopic)

About 10% of the population, or even slightly more, have a family gene that codes for eczema, allergies, asthma and hayfever. Many family members have one or two of these problems, and a few… all of them. Dry skin tends to run in these families. If you have eczema or the below isn’t helping, see your Derm.

The fix:

  • Use only very gentle soaps or cleansers (no Irish Spring!) and use cleansers in the armpits, face, and groin. Avoid soaping the rest of the body unless truly you’ve been rolling the mud!
  • After every shower or bath, “lube” your face, neck, chest, arms and legs at a minimum. Your whole body is even better. I love organic lotions and oils, but if you’re on a budget, buy the big tubs or bottles of CeraVe, Cetaphil or Vanicream instead. Creams are generally better than lotions.
  • Use laundry detergents that are bio friendly like Allfree or 7th generation. Fewer residues and fragrances left on clothing.
  • Avoid “dryer sheets.” Even “natural” ones leave tiny irritating fibers on your clothing.

3.  Normal aging

We ALL get dryer as we get older. If you didn’t need to do anything when you were younger, you may need to start now.

The fix:

  • Take the steps in #2
  • Also try taking an Epsom salt bath (at least two cups) for about 10-15 minutes. While you’re in the bath, take a GENTLE loofah, washcloth, or natural bristle brush and exfoliate all the skin you can reach.  Then “lube” when you’re out while your skin is still damp.
  • Get a salon body scrub once a month
  • Also try lotions, especially on the lower legs, that have an alpha or beta hydroxy in them. For example, Amlactin has lactic acid in it that helps clear dry skin. Here’s one with urea, a natural exfoliant.

4.  Environmentally induced dry skin (climate both indoor and outdoor)

This is tougher than you might think. For most of us, if we lived in a place like Hawaii, with very little air conditioning or central heating, and a lot of natural humidity, our skin would not be dry!

The fix:

  • Try altering your indoor environment, since you really can’t change your weather. Can you use a humidifier? Could you turn off the systems when the temp outside is 65-75, and just leave the windows open for awhile? Could you use a diffuser or make tea frequently, and let the steam into the room a bit. A soup pot on the stove for a few hours simmering works too.
  • All of the suggestions in 2 & 3 apply.
If you have a great suggestion for any of the above, send it in on the blog questions and I’ll pick the best ones and post them!  🙂

Hope this helps, Dr. I




Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

Ask me your skincare question!

Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

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