Causes of Dry Skin Despite Moisturizing, and How to Treat It

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Dry skin is medically known as xerosis. It’s characterized by skin that’s cracked, rough, scaly, or itchy. It’s one of the most common skin conditions and affects almost everybody at some point in their lives.

A large 2019 studyTrusted Source of almost 50,000 people from Germany, found that 29.4 percent had dry skin. The researchers found it became more prevalent with age and is about equally common among men and women.

Moisturizers are one of the most effective treatments for dry skin, but they’re not always effective. If you’ve ever asked yourself why your skin is so dry when you moisturize regularly, keep reading to learn some of the possible answers.

Here are some of the possible explanations of why your skin is dry despite moisturizing.

Not exfoliating

Over time, dead skin cells can build up on the surface of your skin and can give it a dry and flaky texture. Exfoliating can help remove these cells and potentially improve the texture of your skin.


The surface of your skin contains oil and a group of molecules called natural moisturizing factors that help protect your skin’s natural moisture barrier. Overwashing your skin can lead to dryness by removing these molecules.

If your skin feels tight or irritated after bathing, it may be a sign that you’re overwashing.

Dehydration or malnutrition

The outer layer of your skin is made up of about 15 to 20 percentTrusted Source water. When it becomes dehydrated, it loses its elasticity and becomes prone to dryness.

2018 review of studiesTrusted Source found skin hydration improved slightly when dietary water intake was increased.

Deficiency in the following can also contribute to skin dryness:

Using a harsh cleanser

Using harsh soaps and cleansing products can potentially irritate or dry out your skin. The following cleanser ingredients can all potentially lead to dry skin:

  • isopropyl alcohols
  • benzyl alcohol
  • sulfates
  • fragrances

Cream cleansers are often gentler for dry skin than gel or foam cleansers.

The active ingredients in the moisturizer have lost effectiveness

In theory, using a moisturizer past its expiration date may make it less effective. Most moisturizers last a long time. But to extend their life, it’s a good idea to keep them away from sources of heat and avoid buying lotions missing a lid seal.

Using the wrong moisturizer for your skin type

Different moisturizers work best on different skin types. If you’re prone to dry skin, you may need a thicker moisturizer than somebody with oilier skin. ResearchTrusted Source has found that using a moisturizer that contains ceramides may be an effective treatment for targeting dry skin.

Other ingredients that may help treat dry skin include:

Side effect of some medications and medical treatments

Some medications or medical treatments can cause dry skin as a side effect. These include:

Some skin conditions

Some types of skin conditions cause patches of dry skin. These conditions include:

Some infectious diseases like scabies, and bacterial or fungal infections can also lead to dry skin.

Living in a cold, dry climate

Cold air naturally holds less moisture than warmer air. The dry air can draw moisture away from your skin and cause it to dry out. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can also contribute to skin dryness.

Bathing with water that’s too hot or swimming in chlorinated water

Taking excessively hot showers or baths can damage the outer layer of your skin and strip it of its naturally protective oils. Chlorine found in swimming pools also has the potential to strip the natural oils from your skin.

Underlying medical condition

Some underlying medical condition can potentially lead to dry skin. Some of these conditions include:

Genetics and ethnicity

Some people are naturally more prone to developing dry skin than others.

Some researchTrusted Source suggests that people with Black skin are more prone to losing moisture through their skin compared to people with white skin. People with Asian heritage may be most prone to losing moisture through their skin. However, studies have found conflicting results.

The way you apply moisturizer can play a role in determining its effectiveness. Here are some tips to maximize its benefits.

Moisturize right after bathing

One of the ways moisturizers work is by trapping moisture on your skin. Ingredients that have a water-trapping effect are known as occlusives. The best time to apply occlusives is right after bathing, within a few minutes of towel drying.

Find the right moisturizer

Using the wrong type of skin products can contribute to skin dryness. Removing potentially drying products from your skin care routine may be enough to moisturize your skin or you can try switching to a product specifically designed to target dry skin.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends looking for products that contain:

Moisturize in the morning and before bedtime

You may want to try applying a light moisturizer in the morning and a heavier moisturizer before bed to maximize the amount of time the product is in contact with your skin. Many moisturizers designed for day use contain some level of SPF protection to prevent sun damage, which can contribute to dryness.

Use a hydrating toner

Toners help cleanse your skin and prepare it for a moisturizer. They’re best applied after your cleanser and before serums and moisturizers. Some toners target specific skin concerns like dryness, acne, or sun damage.

Use a serum

Serums are products that contain a high concentration of active ingredients like hyaluronic acid that can be applied after cleansing and before you apply moisturizer.

Learn which serums may help target dry skin.

Use creams instead of lotions

Creams or ointments are often less irritating and more effective than lotions for people with dry skin.

Although the terms sound similar, dry skin and dehydrated skin refer to different issues.

Dry skin refers to skin that’s dry and flaky due to a lack of oil and natural moisturizing factors.

Dehydrated skin occurs when there’s inadequate water in your skin. Dehydration causes your skin to become less elastic and more prone to showing signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles. It also raises your chances of developing dry skin.

Dry skin usually isn’t serious and often responds to lifestyle changes or by moisturizing more often. If it’s causing you discomfort, you develop open wounds, or if you notice signs of an infection, it’s a good idea to see a dermatologist.

A dermatologist can also help you if your dry skin becomes a chronic problem that doesn’t respond to home remedies or moisturizing creams.

Dry skin can be caused by many factors.

If you’re moisturizing your skin regularly but still develop dryness, you may want to check the ingredients in your moisturizer to see if they contain potentially dehydrating ingredients, such as isopropyl alcohol or sulfates. You may find you have better results with products containing ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, or ceramides.

Dry skin is rarely serious, but if it becomes a persistent problem or leads to discomfort, it may be time to see a dermatologist.

JPeei Clinic