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Ask the experts: The best cleansers for dry skin

Unlock the secrets to a smooth, hydrated, clean complexion with these dry skin tips.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Get ready to say goodbye to scratchy, flaky skin with our expert-backed guide to combating dryness. Here we’ll break down effective treatments, the potential impact of harsh products, and the qualities that make a great cleanser for dry skin. Our expert-backed advice can help you keep your dry skin soft, nourished, and hydrated.

Understanding dry skin 

So, exactly what is dry skin? This common condition, also referred to as xeroderma, occurs when there is a lack of water in the outermost layer of the skin.¹ This lack of moisture may result in skin that feels rough, tight, flaky, and scaly and can even lead to redness, irritation, and itching. Discomfort is reason enough to look for solutions, but itchiness can lead to excoriations and an increased risk of infection.² 

Dry skin has significantly higher microbial diversity than normal, healthy skin.³ Understanding dry skin’s characteristics is important to diagnosing and treating it. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the key signs of dry skin:⁴

  • Skin may feel tight: Dry skin may feel uncomfortable, especially after washing or bathing. 

  • Skin may be prone to redness and irritation: Dry skin can easily become irritated, red, and itchy. 

Skin may appear dull: Dry skin may look dull, rough, and scaly.

Which face cleansers work well for dry skin?

A good skincare routine for dry skin starts with a gentle, fragrance-free facial cleanser.⁵ Cream cleansers may be the best face washes for dry skin because they’re generally gentle and more nourishing than other options, like a gel or foaming cleanser. The Cleanser by Curology (aka the Gentle Cleanser) is a gentle face wash that helps remove dirt and excess oil without stripping the skin. The lightly foaming gel texture is a great option for normal, combination, and oily skin types. But it’s especially loved by those with sensitive skin. It’s generally non-irritating and contains glycerin and oat extract for moisturizing and soothing the skin. Lipid-free cleansing lotions and synthetic washing bars are also suitable for dry skin.⁶ 

If you have dry skin, consider seeking a gentle skin cleanser that’s fragrance-free and alcohol-free,⁷ as these ingredients may further dry out the skin. Hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid can also go a long way toward improving dryness. Selecting a facial wash appropriate for your skin type may help improve your skin’s overall health and appearance, too.

Here are a few ultra-gentle cleansers we typically recommend for dry skin:

5 potential contributing factors to dry skin 

A variety of internal and external factors can cause dry skin, including underlying conditions, aging, environmental changes, and medications.⁸ Understanding the possible contributors to your dry skin can help you take the necessary steps to improve it. Here are a few common factors that may be drying you out:⁹

Weather and UV damage

Exposure to harsh weather conditions like cold, dry air or wind may strip the skin of its natural oils, leaving it feeling dry and tight. Similarly, prolonged exposure to UV rays may also lead to dryness. 

Harsh skincare products

When treating dry skin, facial cleansers are just one part of the equation. Alkaline soaps and products that contain alcohol, fragrances,¹⁰ and other harsh ingredients may cause dryness. 

Underlying skin conditions

Underlying inflammatory skin conditions like atopic dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and psoriasis may contribute to the problem. Talk to your medical provider if you think an underlying condition might be causing your dry skin.

Hot water

Frequent long, hot showers or baths may leave the skin dry and tight. To help prevent this, take lukewarm showers and baths and limit your time in the water.

Dry air 

There’s little moisture in the air in dry climates and environments with low humidity. This dry air can contribute to dry skin. Consider running a humidifier in your home or office to add moisture to the air.

How to treat dry skin on your face and body 

Dry skin may be frustrating and uncomfortable, but several approaches can help manage it. Whether it’s switching up your skincare routine, taking steps to protect your skin from external factors, or making lifestyle changes, there are plenty of ways to help treat tight, uncomfortable, itchy skin and get it back to feeling soft and supple. To help keep your skin stay healthy and hydrated, consider these suggestions:¹¹

  • Avoid harsh products: Harsh soaps, detergents, and products with fragrances may leave your skin feeling dry. Reach for gentle, non-stripping formulas instead. 

  • Don’t rub or scratch your skin: Rubbing and scratching may cause further irritation and potentially worsen dryness.

  • Moisturize: This is key to treating and preventing dry skin!¹² Use an ointment or cream with beneficial ingredients like glycerin, jojoba oil, or shea butter. Consider trying the Curology Gel Moisturizer or the Curology Cream Moisturizer for a hydrating boost (more about these below). 

  • Run a humidifier: If the air in your home or office is dry, use a humidifier to add moisture. 

  • Take care with certain active ingredients: Skincare ingredients like retinoids and alpha-hydroxy acids may contribute to dry skin. If you’re using a retinoid like tretinoin, a cream formulation may be gentler on your skin than a gel formulation.¹³

  • Choose non-irritating laundry detergent: If the skin on your body is dry, laundry detergent might be the culprit. Try switching to hypoallergenic detergent. 

Try Curology’s moisturizers 

Designed for all skin types, Curology’s refreshing Gel Moisturizer is lightweight, quick-absorbing, and ideal for everyday hydration. It’s formulated with glycerin and hyaluronic acid and free from fragrances and pore-clogging ingredients. It is also dermatologist-designed and vegan. 

Designed for skin that needs a little extra hydration, Curology’s Cream Moisturizer (aka rich moisturizer) is non-clogging, vegan, and fragrance-free. It’s powered by ingredients like hyaluronic acid, squalane, glycerin, and aloe vera to help restore your skin barrier.

Curology offers customized skincare 

Curology is a full-service skincare company offering products made with proven effective ingredients. Our licensed dermatology providers take the guesswork out of skincare routines by helping to determine the products your skin needs and creating a personalized prescription formula to help you meet your skincare goals.

Signing up for Curology is easy—we just need to get to know your skin better! In order for our experts to provide the best treatment plan for you, all you have to do is answer a few questions about your skin concerns and medical history, and upload a few selfies. This information will be used to assess your skin condition and specific needs. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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If Curology is right for you, we’ll pair you with an in-house licensed dermatology provider, who will review your information and recommend a personalized prescription formula tailored to your unique skin needs. With Curology, professional dermatological care is right at your fingertips.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Proksch, E., et al. Dry skin management: practical approach in light of latest research on skin structure and function. J Dermatolog Treat. (2020).

  2. Gade, A., Matin, T., Rubenstein, R. Xeroderma. StatPearls. (2022).

  3. Fundamental assessment of skin microbiome diversity in three subject populations: normal skin, dry skin, and dry skin with a history of itch. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2018).

  4. Gade, A., Matin, T., Rubenstein, R. Xeroderma. StatPearls. Ibid.

  5. Dermatologists’ top tips for relieving dry skin. American Academy of Dermatology. (n.d.).

  6. Mukhopadhyay, P. CLEANSERS AND THEIR ROLE IN VARIOUS DERMATOLOGICAL DISORDERS. Indian Journal of Dermatology. (2011).

  7. Dermatologists’ top tips for relieving dry skin. American Academy of Dermatology. Ibid.

  8. Gade, A., Matin, T., Rubenstein, R. Xeroderma. StatPearls. Ibid.

  9. Gade, A., Matin, T., Rubenstein, R. Xeroderma. StatPearls. Ibid.

  10. Dermatologists’ top tips for relieving dry skin. American Academy of Dermatology. Ibid.

  11. Dermatologists’ top tips for relieving dry skin. American Academy of Dermatology. Ibid.

  12. Purnamawati, S., et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clinical Medicine & Research. (2017).

  13. Scholtz, J. Dry skin factor in atopic dermatitis. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Erin Pate is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Erin Pate Nurse Practitioner, NP-C

Erin Pate, NP-C

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