Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/9/2021
Not only can having dry skin on your face look bad, but it can also be itchy and uncomfortable — and who wants that?
It can be caused by a variety of things and the severity of your dry skin can determine how best to treat it. That said, no matter how bad it is, dry skin is treatable.
Speaking to a healthcare professional can help you determine what could be causing your dry skin and the best course of treatment. But until then, read on to learn about possible dry skin culprits and how to deal with it.
There are a number of things that could be behind dry skin (medically referred to as xerosis) on your face. It’s important to figure out what may be causing yours, as it could dictate how you reverse the dryness. These are some common causes:
As you get older, your skin produces less sebum (a natural oil your body produces to lubricate your skin). The amount you make drops fairly dramatically in your 40s and by 60, nearly everyone has dry skin. That said, people of all ages can develop dry skin.
Cold and hot weather with little to no humidity can also lead to parched facial skin. It can be especially bad in the winter months when there is dry, cold weather — and heaters are pumping hot, dry air inside. Likewise, sitting in air conditioning in the summer can affect moisture levels in your skin.
Your skin naturally lubricates itself by secreting oil through the sebaceous glands — this also creates a protective barrier on your skin, which helps seal in moisture. But things like sun and pollution can wear away at that barrier — leading to dry skin. Because of this, it’s important to use a face cream or moisturizer twice a day to replenish that hydration. If you don’t, you may notice your skin gets dry.
During the day, you can choose a moisturizer that contains SPF (more on that soon). At night, you may want to go with a hydrating anti-aging cream.
There are a number of skin conditions that cause dry skin. Some to be on the lookout for include atopic dermatitis, ichthyosis, perioral dermatitis, psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. Non skin-related conditions can also be behind dry skin — such as kidney disease and diabetes.
Different vitamins and minerals help keep your skin healthy and moisturized — including vitamins A and D, niacin and iron. If your diet lacks these nutrients, you may notice dry skin.
To this point, dry skin is also sometimes associated with anorexia — mostly because those who are anorexic don’t get enough nutrients.
If you’re taking medication for a health condition, you may notice dry skin on your face. For example, acne medications like isotretinoin can lead to dry, chapped skin. Chemotherapy to treat cancer is another medication that can cause skin all over, including your face, to become dry.
If you don’t drink enough water throughout the day, you’ll get dehydrated and that can affect your skin’s moisture levels, too. With that, drinking alcohol dehydrates and can also dry out the skin on your face.
Smoking cigarettes can also affect your skin (not to mention, your overall health). Cigarettes speed up aging, and as a result, can lead to drier skin.
The truth is, you probably don’t need anyone to tell you what the symptoms of having a dry face are — afterall, you’ll be able to feel that your skin is dry there. But, just in case it’s helpful, here are signs that the skin on your face is dry:
Flaky skin, scaly patches and rough texture
Stinging or burning
Wrinkled, loose texture
Raw, red and irritated skin
Washing your face is an important part of any skincare routine, but you also need to be careful how you wash.
First, do not use hot water (which can strip away more moisture). Instead, make sure the water you use is lukewarm. Once you wash, pat your skin dry rather than rubbing it (which can cause further irritation).
When it comes to the type of cleanser to use, skip harsh soaps. Instead, look for something that is non-abrasive and formulated without alcohol (which is drying). Hers has a cleanser that cleans skin while also hydrating.
We’ve already touched on this, but it bears repeating: moisturizing is key.
Ideally, you want to apply face cream or moisturizer right after washing your face or showering to trap in hydration.
Not sure what to look for? These ingredients tend to be ultra-hydrating:
You may be doing things in your everyday life that are drying out your skin — but a few simple tweaks can change that.
Do you have a tendency to spend lots of time in the sun? You may want to rethink that. Sun exposure can diminish oils, making dry skin even worse. While we’re on the topic, wearing sunscreen is a must. It's best to select a broad-spectrum formula (meaning it protects from UVA and UVB rays) with SPF 30 or higher.
Also important: drinking plenty of water and eating a diet full of nutritious foods.
You may also want to reconsider hot baths and hot showers — since hot water can make dry skin worse. Instead, aim for warm water in the shower and tub.
Finally, add a humidifier to your house. This will help keep moisture in the air when you're pumping the heat or air conditioner.
If your skin is overly dry, you may need the help of prescription medication to turn it around. After speaking to a healthcare professional, they may prescribe a topical steroid to help. This can alleviate rashes and itching associated with dry skin and allow it to heal.
Many things can cause skin dryness on your face. Aging is a common cause, but other issues like poor skincare habits and diet can also factor in.
At best, dryness in this area is unsightly. At worst, it’s irritating or painful. Either way, dealing with it is a must.
Getting your face routine in tip-top shape will help, as will selecting the right skin care products (like gentle skin cleansers). You can read about more in our guide, How to Take Care of Your Skin. If your dryness is really bad, you may even need medication.
To come up with a game plan, it’s always a good idea to make an appointment with a healthcare professional.