20 Habits That Make Dry Skin Worse

Softer, smoother skin is just seconds away.

Itchy and often unsightly dry skin is the gift that keeps on disappointing. While the winter weather tends to make dry skin worse, many people deal with this condition year-round. Among participants in a study published by the International Journal of Dermatology, more than one third of those who identified as having sensitive skin listed dry skin as their major complexion concern.

While there's often a genetic component behind dry skin, many of us are inadvertently making our skin worse with seemingly innocuous habits. Before you spend any more money on products that don't work, make sure you're not guilty of any of these habits that make dry skin worse. And when you want your complexion to shine, discover the 30 Best Ways to Have Your Best Skin!

Not Hydrating Enough

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Want to get rid of that dry skin for good? The solution is as close as your nearest sink. Research published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology links adequate water consumption with healthy, hydrated skin, so drink up if you want to beat that dryness plaguing you. Fortunately, if you live in one of the 25 U.S. Cities With the Best Drinking Water, the stuff that comes from your tap is just as good as the bottled stuff.

Incorrectly Labeling Your Skin Issues

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Before you start treating a skin condition you've self-diagnosed, make sure you get a medical opinion to ensure you're not making things worse.

"It's important to note that dry skin, most often seen on arms, legs, or abdomens, is not a skin condition such as eczema or ringworm, but rather a cause of something happening in your life that allows for moisture to leave the thin layer of skin," says Dr. David Greuner. The good news? The 10 Ways to Look 10 Years Younger can still make your skin look healthier.

Using the Wrong Moisturizer

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While moisturizer is meant to heal dry skin, the wrong one can actually make your skin issues worse. Whether you're opting for products with overly-harsh ingredients or ones that are too heavy for your skin type, the wrong moisturizer may do more harm than good.

So, what should you use?

"My secret weapon for dry skin, believe it or not, is petroleum jelly," says Dr. Tania Elliot, Chief Medical Officer of EHE. "It must be put on your skin while it is still wet, and it is great at locking in moisture. For an extra step with dry feet and hands-apply the petroleum jelly, wrap in saran wrap, and put on white cotton gloves (or socks). This will get your hands and feet nicely moisturized. You can also do wraps for your arms and legs and put on a cotton shirt or pants. I like petroleum jelly because it doesn't contain any preservatives or other ingredients, so you don't run the risk of developing a skin allergy or rash from the product." And when you want to make your skin look younger, start with the 20 Best Ways to Erase Wrinkles!

Drinking Alcohol

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While a glass of wine may make you feel better about having dry skin, it certainly won't do much to help fight it. Alcohol's dehydrating effect can make every part of your body, your skin included, feel and look parched. To help combat this effect, make sure you're drinking at least a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you have. Luckily, you can always look and feel your best with the 40 Ways to Guarantee Healthy Skin After 40!

Taking Hot Showers

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A hot shower can be a pleasant way to combat the cold temperature, but it's likely exacerbating your dry skin issues. "As tempting as it may be in winter, don't shower or wash your face and hands with super-hot water, which can strip your skin of essential oils required to keep skin moisturized and healthy. Wash with lukewarm water only," says Dr. Daniel Barrett, a board-certified plastic surgeon. Luckily, the 25 Best Instant Mood Boosters can be just as relaxing as a hot shower.

Skipping the Sunscreen

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If you want to keep your skin looking and feeling healthy, make sunscreen part of your daily routine. Sun damage can make even oily skin feel tight and dry and tends to expedite the aging process. Even when it's cloudy out, make sure you have at SPF covering any exposed skin to minimize the potential for dry skin. The good news? The 20 Easy Ways to Look a Decade Younger can still help you turn back the clock.

Using Fragranced Products

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Those scented products may make you smell nice, but they could be making your dry skin worse. In addition to fragrance being irritating for many people with dry skin, many fragranced products are full of alcohol, which can strip skin of its natural oils. And while you're getting rid of the perfume, ditch the 50 Things No Man Over 40 Should Own, too.

Applying Products at the Wrong Time

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Using the right products is key for treating dry skin, but using them at the right time might be even more important. "Applying moisturizer before dry skin occurs is key to being comfortable, as it helps retain any moisture leaving the skin. If you're looking to use it as a cure, put it on when your skin is moist (after a shower or bath) to avoid it drying up again. Once the damage is done, it won't be as effective," says Dr. Greuner.

Washing Your Face With Alcohol-Based Cleansers

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It's not just fragranced products that have alcohol in them. Many cleansers, toners, and even moisturizers, including some specifically intended for dry skin, have drying alcohol in them. As a rule of thumb, make sure you read the label carefully before picking a product, even one that's meant to treat dry skin.

Using Soap

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That bar of soap that's been sitting around in your shower for six months should be the first product you ditch if you're eager to heal your dry skin. "I recommend that patients don't use everyday soap on their skin, because it has high pH levels that dries out the outer layer of skin and also causes inflammation," says Dr. Barrett.

Using a Brush to Apply Makeup

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While your foundation brush may give you a flawless finish, it might also be making the dry skin on your face worse. The fibers in makeup brushes can tug on patches of dry skin, making them appear more prominent or irritating them. To avoid this issue, opt for a sponge, beauty blender, or your fingers instead.


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That sun-kissed look is doing no favors for your dry skin. Even if you're not out baking in the sun, a tanning bed can be every bit as bad when it comes to the condition of your skin. If you're dealing with dryness, skip the tanning booth. If you absolutely need to deepen your natural color, use a sunless tanner instead.

Scratching Your Skin

Itching arm

Dry skin can make you itchy, but scratching can make things go from bad to worse fast. In addition to making dry skin look worse, scratching can also introduce bacteria from your finger into your dry, cracked skin, potentially leading to more serious skin health issues.

Exfoliating Too Much

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Want to stop dry skin in its tracks? Skip the scrub. "Over-exfoliating can actually cause irritation and dryness," says Dr. Janet Prystowsky, a dermatologic surgeon and founder of Liviad Skincare.

Over Washing

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While washing your skin may relieve the appearance of some flakiness initially, it will only make things worse in the long run. Every time you wash your skin, you strip away some of the oils keeping it soft and healthy. To combat this effect, splash your face with water in the morning and give it a more thorough wash at night.

Keeping Your Home Too Hot

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While cold weather is a major contributor to dry skin, an overheated house can be just as bad. Warm air in our homes tends to be drying, often making our skin look worse for wear. Whenever possible, keep the heat at the lowest comfortable temperature and use humidifiers in your bedroom to reduce the hot air's drying effects.

Skipping the Warm Clothes

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Dr. Greuner suggests that even small habits, like forgetting adequately warm clothes on a cold day and leaving your skin exposed, can do more harm than you think. When you go out in cold weather, make sure you're keeping your whole body, including your face, protected from the elements, especially when it's windy.

Using Blemish-Fighting Products

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While acne-fighting products can help you ditch those blemishes, they may be making your dry skin worse. The ingredients that make acne washes and creams so effective tend to have a drying effect, so skip them if your skin's already on the dry side.

Not Getting Adequate Vitamin C

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If you find that your skin isn't responding to topical treatments, try increasing your intake of vitamin C-rich foods, like citrus fruit and bell peppers. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that vitamin C can help heal dry skin and may even reduce the formation of wrinkles, too.

Skimping on Sleep

Woman Sleeping

Getting an adequate amount of sleep is one of the best things you can do for your dry skin. One study suggests that sleep deprivation can interfere with skin health and promote aging, potentially including increasing dry skin issues. Fortunately, you don't need to perfect your Sleeping Beauty act to see results. Just seven hours a night should be enough for most people to adequately heal their skin. And when you want to make it easier to get enough rest, add the 20 Nighttime Habits Guaranteed to Help You Sleep Better to your routine.

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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