The good news about dry skin is that it is mostly the result of environmental factors (think dry winter weather alternating with artificially heated homes) and that means that it can be overcome (dry menopausal skin is a little different and will be the subject of a future post). And that in some ways gives dry skin an advantage over oily skin, which requires a more holistic approach. The bad news is that reaching for your average moisturizer won’t cut it and the big surprise is that best solutions contain the word “acid”.

Why you need to drop some acid

Most so-called moisturizers are a mixed bag of emollients and humectants. Most emollients are forms of oil or grease, such as mineral oil, squalene, and lanolin. With a layer of oil over the skin, some water loss is prevented the skin is lubricated. The downside is clogged pores, possible irritation and no long term benefits.

So this is why you need to turn to acids and start to get to know keratolytics family. Lactic acid, salicylic acid, and allantoin as the most common keratolytics, which serve to exfoliate and soften keratin (a key component of skin). By dissolving the horny substance holding the top layer of skin cells together, urea (and other keratolytic agents) help the dead skin cells fall off as the skin retains water.

Urea (not to be confused with the formaldehyde releasing preservative, diazolidinyl urea) is another keratolytics that is highly hygroscopic, or water-loving, and modifies the structure of amino chains and polypeptides in skin. This is significant for skin moisturizing since there is a direct correlation between water content and amino acid content in skin (the drier skin is, the lower its share of dissolved amino acids).

A product that majors on glycerin, lactic acid and urea is Skin-Lasting Super Hydrator ($28 in the TIA shop). It is also a great all-rounder that can be used on face, neck, body and hands.

Hyaluronic acid

Sodium hyaluronate or hyaluronic acid was one of the most prominent ingredients in 2011, cropping up in just about everything. One of the reasons for sodium hyaluronate’s “it” status is that, according to a review in The Archives of Dermatology, it is one of three anti-aging treatments available that are proven clinically effective. But it is important to understand how it works and why it isn’t going to be suitable for everyone. Hyaluronic acid is water-binding and water-attracting. If you are in a very dry climate, it could make your skin feel even dryer as the only water it has to draw on is your own skin’s. In damper climes, it will effectively plump up the skin by filling up the spaces between the connective fibers collagen and elastin in the dermis. Check out my Five Best with sodium hyaluronate.

Moisturizing serums

Those dry of skin generally find that they need to wear a moisturizer over their serum. However, there are some serums that are more hydrating than others and are worth gravitating towards. Copley, Nisha and many members of the TIA community have raved about Beautisol’s 99% Pure Peptide Serum. As well as boasting eight different peptides (I, for one, have always been a bit put off the hyperbole of the 99% thing, but the formula looks really good and the reported results seem impressive). Funnily enough, Nisha is also a big user of Skin Nutrition’s Cell CPR (although perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising as she does have very hydrated-looking skin), which is one of the other serums that I have found can be a big help with dry skin and it can even be layered over products that tend to be drying.

Rich moisturizers

Reaching for a night cream rather than a day cream can be the better option for dry skin at any time of day. They are nutrient rich and typically heavier than a day cream (the latter is typically formulated to be light enough to play nice with other things such as serums and sunscreen). Some of the most reliable rich moisturizers that I can point to are Hyropeptide April Rain’s Night Rainew, or the very similar Hydropeptide Power Lift, La Vie Celeste’s Extra Rich Face Cream and SenZen’s Infinity.

Cracked, dry and battered skin

Although you might be tempted to go for a heavy, greasy cream when the going gets tough, badly cracked and very dry skin can find respite from surprising sources. This is what Angela found when she tried Porter’s Lotion and watched as this light spray stopped itchy and flaking. It is now her “constant companion”.

For dry and abused feet, AmLactin’s Foot Cream or the AmLactin XL Moisturizing Lotion with lactic acid got a good pass from Nisha.