6 Ways to Prevent Dry Skin

Keep your skin hydrated with these simple tips from a dermatologist.

Medically reviewed in April 2022

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Strong winds and freezing temperatures are all common as the seasons transition to autumn and winter. The weather, along with dry indoor air, can wreak havoc on your skin. In addition, frequent hand washing and use of alcohol-based hand sanitzer, which can prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses, may leave hands more cracked and dehyrated than normal.

“During the winter, you lose water through your skin and then your skin is less of a barrier to bacteria in the environment,” says dermatologist Margaret “Miggs” Muldrow, MD, of Presbyterian/St Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, Colorado. Your skin can become extremely dry, inflamed, itchy or splotchy—and you can even break out with eczema.

Get rid of dry skin and chapped lips with these tips from Dr. Muldrow.

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Plug in a humidifier

When you’re blasting your home’s heat to keep your family warm, the humidity level in your home is probably going to drop. Low humidity levels are sure to dry out your skin, but a humidifier will put moisture back in the air.

Place a humidifier your bed and close the door to that room to lock the moisture in. To keep the humidifier functioning properly, use distilled water and change the filters as directed. Keep an eye on your home’s humidity levels with a hygrometer or other thermostat device; a home humidity level of about 30 percent to 50 percent is ideal for your health.

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Shower smart

While a steaming hot shower may sound good after trekking around in the cold, you may want to think twice before you turn the faucet all the way to hot. Hot water dries out the skin. Opt for warm water instead. Try limiting your time in the shower to just 5 or 10 minutes.

Muldrow says to be mindful of how many showers you take per day, too. “It’s okay to shower daily, but a couple of showers a day is problematic.”

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Use mild bathing products

It’s easy to get suckered into the greatest-smelling products, but perfumes and harsh chemicals in body wash and soaps will irritate your skin. “Stay away from anti-bacterial soaps and body washes with lots of fragrances,” says Muldrow.

You can spend hours dissecting product ingredient lists, but Muldrow says to remember that fragrance-free products with simple ingredients are best. Look for labels that say "dye-free" as well.

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Moisturize right after you shower

Moisturizing every day is great, but the time of day you moisturize matters, too. Moisturize right after you take a shower or bath and after you’ve washed your hands or face. Ointments, creams and lotions can then trap existing moisture into your skin.

For patients with really dry skin, Muldrow recommends a wet wrap. “Soak in a tub of lukewarm water and don't add anything to the bathwater. Get out, barely dry off, and coat your skin with Vaseline, put on pajamas and go to bed.” She alos suggests that cold-pressed virgin coconut oil can be used as a moisturizer, too. The oil’s antioxidants soften the skin and may even reduce the appearance of fine lines.

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Hydrate with H20

Drinking an adequate amount of water may help your digestive system, blood circulation, kidney function and waistline, but water also helps keep your skin cells hydrated. If your skin isn’t getting enough water, it may become dry and flaky. “It’s important you’re aware of the amount of fluids you’re getting, and to drink a lot of water, particularly in the wintertime,” says Muldrow.

But remember: Everyone’s water needs vary depending on activity level, temperature, humidity and medical conditions. For some people, especially those with certain kidney problems or people who take diuretics, drinking too much can be dangerous. Women should aim for 91 ounces of water a day from both food and beverages, while men should aim for 125 ounces. Always talk with your healthcare provider before ramping up your intake.

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Don’t forget your lips

It happens every year come fall or winter—your lips dry out, and then you’re constantly licking them. “Our lips are always in the sun and always exposed to the environment. They’re a very fragile part of the body because the skin is thinner,” says Muldrow. And as you get older, the shape of your mouth changes. “Saliva that tends to carry bacteria and yeast can pool up in the corners of your mouth, and that can cause irritation and inflammation.”

Muldrow suggests keeping your lip moisturizing routine pretty simple. Vaseline or lanolin-based products are safe bets and if your lips seem really inflamed, you may need a topical steroid.

“You can start with over-the-counter one percent hydrocortisone, but if it’s not getting better, you’ll want to see your doctor for a prescription,” says Muldrow. If you feel a stinging or burning sensation after you apply, try a new product.

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