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How to Treat Causes of Dry, Flaky Skin, According to Dermatologists

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There’s so much to embrace about the warm weather season ahead. Al fresco dining, backyard gardening, and plenty of sun-soaked days. But of course, with the opportunity to ditch our winter layers comes plenty of toxic messaging. Hello… “summer body.” Thankfully, in the era of increased neutrality, a summer body depends on nothing more than existing in the months between May and August. It’s freeing to align your routine to your changing needs instead of trying to change your body for the seasons. With that approach in mind, my summer prep looks like resetting my skincare routine, turning over my wardrobe, prioritizing beauty sleep, and upping my body care rituals to address common causes of dry, flaky skin.

Featured image from our interview with Megan O’Neill by Belathée Photography.

Understanding Dry, Flaky Skin Causes

In the summer, I swap out my winter skincare for a more streamlined routine. Think: lightweight face oils and makeup multi-sticks in lieu of heavier moisturizers. But whatever time I save in paring back these steps goes straight to my body. Of course, when the sun’s out, I show more of my skin. So I try to stop common dry, flaky skin at the root by being diligent with my body care routine.

But as with any element of beauty, you don’t know what you don’t know. To get a clear handle on exactly what my body care routine needs, I went to the experts for answers.

“The body often gets neglected,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Deanne Mraz. “We tend to seek out and splurge on facial skincare, but there is now a growing awareness that many of the same active ingredients will benefit the body (and scalp!).”

Read on to understand the causes of dry, flaky skin—as well as common mistakes to avoid if you have genetic concerns or skin conditions like psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, or just too much sun exposure. Our experts also recommended some steps to add to your body care routine. Start now for smooth, hydrated skin all summer and beyond.

Meet the Experts

Deanne Mraz, MD,  FAAD. President and Founder, DMR Research, President and Co-Founder, Modern Dermatology, and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology, Yale New Haven Hospital

Anar Mikailov, MD, FAAD. Board-Certified Dermatologist, Co-Founder of Skintensive, and Co-Author of Fitzpatrick’s Color Atlas and Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology, 9th Edition

Woman serving food outside.

Dry Skin Symptoms

Mraz: Dry, flaky skin can be triggered by our environment (cold, dry weather), sun damage, over-bathing, sensitization from an allergic reaction, or injury to the skin. Anything that compromises the skin barrier can lead to dry, dehydrated skin that flakes.

Mikailov: Various factors include:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Hormone status
  • External factors, such as products or environment (ambient humidity level and temperature)
  • Pregnancy
  • Perimenopause and menopause
  • Maturing skin

How does the skin on our face differ from that on our body?

Mraz: Skin needs vary by body part. Some of this is based on how much skin is exposed to the environment, and other times, it has to do with its structural makeup. For example, because the face is almost always exposed to the environment, it suffers more wear and tear from UV and weather exposure.

Mikailov: The skin on the face is thinner and more delicate than that on the rest of the body. The pores are also smaller, but sebaceous glands are more abundant on the face. Generally, the skin on the face should be treated more gently and delicately. 

Woman using body lotion

What skin types are more prone to dryness?

Mraz: As we age, our skin becomes more vulnerable to dryness. This is largely due to hormonal fluctuations that impact the amount of sebum our skin produces naturally. Skin prone to irritation or conditions like eczema is typically dryer. Some medical conditions are linked to dry skin, such as thyroid disease and anemia.

Mikailov: It’s a myth that all bumps on the skin are acne and can be treated with the same products and ingredients as facial acne. However, some bumps may be due to fungal acne, folliculitis, or any other infections that cause skin bumps. Sometimes, it’s best to see a board-certified dermatologist.

How to Address Common Causes of Dry, Flaky Skin

Mraz: Avoid long, hot showers, which dehydrate the skin and compromise the skin barrier. Also, avoid products with fragrance (or even anything that’s artificially fragrance-free) and alcohol, which can trigger dry skin and lead to irritation and eczema flare-ups. 

Mikailov: After showers (ideally within three minutes), apply a rich moisturizer filled with plant-based ingredients that help maintain the skin barrier. Think plant oils and butters like coconut, jojoba, shea butter, squalane, and ceramides. Avoid harsh, strong soaps. Lukewarm water is much better than hot water, which can strip the skin of its natural oils. 

For those who shower in the mornings, consider wearing compression socks after applying moisturizer and before heading to work. This is especially important for professionals on their feet! Compression socks are an excellent prevention approach to maintaining optimal vein health and preventing varicose veins. And for exposed parts of the body, don’t forget to apply sunscreen with an adequate SPF.

Woman drinking water in bed.

Best Ingredients for Extremely Dry Skin

Mikailov: Look for emollients that increase skin hydration, repair the skin barrier, and reduce Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL). I prefer plant-based oils and butters like coconut oil and jojoba oil over mineral oil as they mimic the skin’s natural oils.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is one of my favorites for the body—especially in infants and kids because it has been studied extensively in individuals with eczema. This natural plant-based oil has what I call “miracle” properties, including excellent moisture restoration (emollient properties) and moisture loss prevention (occlusive properties).  

In addition to excellent emollient and occlusive properties, coconut oil is primarily made of lauric acid, a fatty acid that naturally lowers the bacterial burden of Staphylococcus aureus (SA). This bacteria is found in 60-100% of individuals with eczema, and a high bacterial burden is associated with poor eczema control. 

Organic coconut oil is always an ingredient I recommend for my patients but it is challenging to find a product that is not too oily or greasy. KP Away Lipid Repair Emollient is one of few products on the market with under 10 ingredients that uses coconut oil and is fast-absorbing. Use twice daily, ensuring one of these applications is within three minutes after showering.

Squalane

This oil was created to replicate the squalene our body naturally produces. Squalene is secreted by our sebaceous glands to hydrate and protect our skin.

Ceramides

Ceramides are fatty acids found in abundance in all layers of our skin. Ceramides act as glue between skin cells and create a barrier to prevent allergens or toxic substances from penetrating the skin. One of the most critical parts of preventing eczema flares is replenishing this natural ceramide-based defense system. CeraVe Moisturizing Cream is a classic product with ceramides.

Sea Buckthorn

This is a plant-derived oil with incredible anti-inflammatory properties. When combined with other moisturizing factors, this oil has been found in multiple studies to help alleviate atopic dermatitis.

Bodycare ingredients.

The Best Moisturizing Body Care Routine for Dry Skin

Sometimes, a tub of Vaseline cannot be beat. But there’s joy in crafting an extensive, elevated body care routine. Think of it as the Goldilocks ritual for dry, flaky skin—and the experts approve.

“Start by regularly exfoliating the skin on your body. This helps to move along dead skin cells and allows the products you apply afterward to penetrate more effectively,” says Dr Mraz. “I like dry-brushing before you hop in the shower for this or using a gentle, fine-particle scrub in the shower.

“For hydration and skin barrier repair, seek out humectants like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and urea and emollients like ceramides, lanolin, and squalane. You can then add an occlusive layer, such as Vaseline or Aquaphor, on dry, scaly patches or areas like the elbows and knees. This helps seal the moisture you’ve applied underneath. It also acts as a protective barrier between the skin and the outside world while it heals.”

Dry brush on the bathroom counter.

Best Body Exfoliating Tools

Physical exfoliation isn’t just a satisfying addition to your routine; it’s a crucial first step to banishing dry, flaky skin. It also helps clear keratosis pilaris and supercharges your skin’s absorption of other hydrating products.

HigherDOSE Supercharge Copper Body Brush

Body brushing gently reveals smoother skin by polishing off surface debris while clearing clogged pores and prepping your body for deeper hydration. It’s also a meditative practice that can improve circulation and lymphatic drainage. The copper bristles in this dry brush help energize and detox your skin.

GOSHI Exfoliating Shower Towel

This exfoliating mesh shower net takes a traditional Japanese practice and puts it into your routine. The material is gentle but effective at scrubbing your skin, preventing breakouts, and resisting bacteria—unlike your loofah.

Esker Body Plane

Inspired by ancient beauty rituals, this body plane pairs best with body oil to exfoliate and evenly spread your products. It scrapes off dead skin and unclogs pores while boosting circulation and product efficacy.

Shower products

Best Hydrating Body Cleansers

Using a stripping cleanser can be one of the main causes of dry skin. Using the wrong cleanser sabotages your routine from the start. Any hydrating cleanser will do the trick for nourished, smooth skin.

iota Supervitamin Body Wash+ Clarifying

If you’re trying to heal your body microbiome (skin barrier), this is the cleanser for you. iota makes products to balance pre- and post-biotics, which is key for achieving your healthiest skin.

Nopalera Cactus Shower Gel

I’m calling it now: prickly pear is the next buzzy beauty ingredient. Filled with hydrating ingredients and vitamins, it makes this juicy shower gel a hydrating hero.

Alo Mega-C Body Wash

Antioxidants and vitamin C combine with natural oils to make this ultra-hydrating cleanser. It’s ideal for your gym bag to cleanse and prevent breakouts after a workout without stripping your skin.

Woman using body oil.

Best Body Oils

To maximize absorption, the best time to apply body oils is while your skin is still damp. Choose oils that are lightweight, fast-absorbing, and full of nourishing ingredients that hydrate and strengthen your skin.

Osea Malibu Undaria Algae Body Oil

Enriched with superfood sea algae and antioxidants, this hydrating body oil is proven to improve skin elasticity for skin that isn’t just smooth, but also toned and sculpted.

BYOMA Nourishing Body Oil

This barrier-boosting oil contains dermatologist-recommended ingredients like jojoba oil and sea buckthorn oil. Combined with the brand’s signature barrier lipid complex, these ingredients help strengthen your skin barrier for glowy, healthy skin all over.

Wonder Valley Hinoki Body Oil

An olive oil base makes this nourishing oil an anti-aging superstar that deeply nourishes and protects for soft, smooth skin. Plus, the smell of Japanese hinoki is intoxicating in all the best ways.

Woman stretching yoga mat.

Best Chemical Body Exfoliators

Chemical exfoliants work on and beneath the skin’s surface to prevent flaky skin and encourage cell regeneration, energizing your skin and helping maintain its elasticity.

Kosas Good Body Skin AHA + Enzyme Exfoliating Body Wash

Add chemical exfoliants to your in-shower routine with this gently exfoliating body wash. I swear by its combination of enzymes and AHAs to slough off dead skin cells and cleanse deep within your pores to prevent dry, flaky skin causes before they occur.

U Beauty Resurfacing Body Compound

Promote cell turnover with this radical body treatment. It resurfaces dead skin cells, clears clogged pores, and breaks down body bumps to banish dry, flaky skin. Trust: it’s well worth the splurge.

Youth To The People 10% AHA + Yerba Mate Smoothing Energy Body Scrub

Combine physical and chemical exfoliation with this AHA body scrub. Lactic and glycolic acids gently clear pores, while olive powder and jojoba beads buff away pore-clogging impurities. Meanwhile, energizing ingredients and antioxidants ensure that your skin is not stripped.

Beauty products on counter.

Best Hydrating Body Serums

These moisturizing body treatments are designed to infuse your skin with extra hydration and promote a strong, healthy skin barrier.

Soft Services Speed Soak Skin Rehydrating Gel

This ultra-hydrating lotion quenches your skin’s thirst and rapidly seeps into your skin without residue.

Nécessaire The Body Serum

All the best ingredients come together in this serum—hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, ceramides, glycerin, aloe, and more. No wonder it’s a fan favorite.

Topicals Like Butter Body Mist

This hydrating serum mists over your skin, infusing it with soothing ingredients to prevent dryness and flakes. Its silky texture seeps into your skin without stickiness or residue.

Woman picking fruit.

Best Body Sunscreens

Sun exposure can wreck all your hard work by weakening your skin barrier — so be sure to wear adequate SPF and reapply often. Here are the sunscreens that are hydrating and preventative.

Bask Suncare SPF 50 Lotion

I recently took this on vacation and all my friends kept asking to borrow this. My staple sunscreen, I use it head to toe and am always impressed by the smooth texture, the lack of white cast, and the compliments I get on its scent.

Cay Skin Isle Body Oil SPF 30

This lightweight oil gives your skin an instant glow while protecting your skin from the elements. It contains hydrating ingredients like sea moss and squalane for long-lasting hydration.

Sol de Janeiro Rio Radiance SPF 50 Body Spray Sunscreen

What can’t this body spray do? It’s SPF 50, fortified with nourishing niacinamide, and has that signature Sol de Janeiro scent. I can’t get enough of this for beach days since it’s a treat to reapply.

Jessie de Lowe lemons.

More Tools to Add to Your Body Care Routine

These effective, and sometimes unexpected, tools address dry, flaky skin causes from the root.

Hey Dewy Wireless Humidifier

Sleeping with a humidifier keeps your skin from drying out while you sleep. This portable humidifier sits on your bedside and keeps your face and body moisturized.

Bombas Everyday Compression socks

As Mikailov suggests, sleeping in compression socks keeps blood flowing and prevents varicose veins. It also increases your products’ efficacy while you sleep.

Hanni Water Balm Custom Hydration Body Moisturizer Mist

This weightless spray is perfect for topping off your routine and refreshing skin during the day. It gently mists over your skin and hydrates like a deep moisturizer with no sticky residue.




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