Save My Tretface: A Dry Skin Sample Routine and Best Practices

Here in boringly sunny southern California, the temperatures have finally dropped, the leaves on the few trees that are not palm trees have started to kind of change color, the humidity has plummeted, and my struggles with winter-dry skin have begun. My Curology prescription is absolutely crushing my old sunspots and slowly but surely smoothing away the fine lines I’d started to see. It’s so great. It’s also surfacing fresh new skin more quickly than my barrier can keep up with. Here’s how I’ve been keeping the flaking and peeling at bay when all my skin wants is to shrivel up and fall right off my face.

Fifty Shades of Snail Dry Skin Sample Routine
This is a typical morning routine for me when I’m feeling especially dry. Sunscreen not pictured but most definitely always used.

Before we start, though, a quicklong-winded reminder: This is a sample routine. I 100% am not advising anyone, dry skin or not, to go out and get all of these products and put them on all at once and expect good results. YMMV is my skincare mantra. This is more of an example of how I pull together different products from my personal skincare wardrobe to solve a specific problem. Even if none of the products I use turn out to be your dry skin saviors, I hope my explanations of each choice will help you come up with your own dryness-banishing routine!

Oh, and if you’re wondering why I’m only providing a day routine, it’s because my dry skin night routine is very easily summed up: Slather on all the things and then do a sheet mask or two. Curation is more of a daytime conundrum.

Some products featured in this post were provided by Fifty Shades of Snail sponsors. Press samples are marked with a double asterisk(**). Affiliate links in this post are marked with a single asterisk(*).

My Basic Dry Skin Day Routine

Cleanser: COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser**

Key points: Low pH, alcohol-free, none of the harsher surfactants like SLS or SLES

I have what some might consider an excessive amount of low-pH foaming cleansers. After much comparison, I’ve concluded that COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser really is the gentlest and least stripping of the bunch for my skin.

Not only is the Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser low pH, but it hits a number of other critical points as well, as Tracy at Fanserviced points out in her review. In fact, this cleanser is so head and shoulders above the rest of the low pH cleansers in my stash that I can’t think of a comparable alternative I own that I would recommend for ultra-dry, pissy skin.

Hydrating Toner: Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner**

Key points: Alcohol-free, humectants, proven anti-inflammatory extracts

While I adore my Dear by Enprani Moistfull Booskin and don’t ever plan to be without it, Klairs Supple Preparation toner does not contain the alcohol or fragrant essential oils present in the Moistfull Booskin, making it more suitable when my skin feels especially sensitive. That makes sense, since the Klairs line is targeted at sensitive skin. As an added bonus, the Klairs hydrates just as well as the Moistfull Booskin and leaves my skin feeling soft and…supple. Wishtrend sent me a bottle of this stuff at my request, and it has come in very handy lately.

Ingredients: Water, butylene glycol, dimethyl sulfone, betaine, caprylic/capric triglyceride, natto gum, sodium hyaluronate, disodium EDTA, centella asiatica extract, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root extract, chlorphenesin, tocopheryl acetate, carbomer, panthenol, arginine, luffa cylindrica fruit/leaf/stem extract, beta-glucan, althaea rosea flower extract, aloe barbadensis leaf extract, hydroxyethylcellulose, fragrance, portulaca oleracea extract, lysine HCL, proline, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, acetyl methionine, theanine, retinyl palmitate, PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil, copper tripeptide-1 (CosDNA analysis)

As an alternative, the classic Hada Labo Gokujyun Moist Lotion offers the intense hydration of three different molecular weights of hyaluronic acid without alcohol, fragrance, or other unnecessary and potentially irritating ingredients. It’s also very boring. My skin hasn’t yet gotten quite irritable enough to require it, but I’m glad it’s in my stash in case that does happen.

Booster: Goodal Waterest Lasting Water Oil

Key points: Alcohol-free, emollient lipids like ceramides and cholesterol, niacinamide, ferments

When my skin is feeling parched and shriveled, it needs more than just humectant hydration. It also craves lipids, that fatty moisture that fills in the gaps in my barrier, keeping the water locked in and the surface smooth. A 3:1:1 ratio of ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids like those found in plant oils is ideal. It’s impossible to know whether most given products have those components in the ideal ratio, but it’s a great start when all three components are present at all. They are in the Goodal Waterest Lasting Water Oil, which I bought on impulse from a fellow AB skincare lover.

Goodal Waterest Lasting Water Oil packaging
Best impulse purchase I’ve made in…uh…a time. What can I say? I’m good at making impulse purchases.

The Waterest Lasting Water Oil manages the interesting feat of delivering a number of emollient and barrier-strengthening oils in a light, watery, and incomparably fast-absorbing liquid formulation. I don’t really understand it, but I love it. Tracy, who is my skin opposite in many ways, likes it too. Apparently it doesn’t just nourish my winter-dry skin, but also balances out her oily skin.

Goodal Waterest Lasting Water Oil contains niacinamide to encourage ceramide production within the skin, as well as ferments to improve skin hydration.

Ingredients:  Water, butylene glycol, glycerin, niacinamide, bifida ferment lysate, raffinose, betaine, PEG/PPG-17/6 copolymer, piper methysticum leaf/root/stem extract, phellinus linteus extract, arctium lappa root extract, portulaca oleracea extract, pueraria thunbergiana root extract, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root extract, paeonia lactiflora root extract, cnidium officinale root extract, monascus extract, soluble collagen, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, hydrogenated lecithin, sodium hyaluronate, citrus limon (lemon) fruit oil, ocimum basilicum (basil) oil, geranium maculatum oil, eugenia caryophyllus (clove) leaf oil, rosa damascena flower oil, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf oil, camellia sinensis seed oil, camellia japonica seed oil, macadamia integrifolia seed oil, argania spinosa kernel oil, olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) seed oil, PEG-60 hydrogenated castor oil, 1,2-hexanediol, Bis-PEG-18 methyl ether dimethyl silane, cellulose gum, ethylhexylglycerin, carbomer, tromethamine, glyceryl polymethacrylate, xanthan gum, adenosine, disodium EDTA, tocopheryl acetate, panthenol, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, caprylic/capric triglyceride, folic acid, ceramide 3, cholesterol, acetic acid, lactic acid, palmitoyl pentapeptide-4, phenoxyethanol, potassium sorbate (CosDNA analysis)

My alternative to the Waterest Lasting Water Oil isn’t commercially available, but in the interests of honesty, here goes: When I’m not using the Waterest Lasting Water Oil, I’m using a little bespoke concoction labeled as the Hanbang Social Event, from the laboratory of Chel at Holy Snails. The Hanbang Social Event contains a number of beneficial botanical extracts as well as Ceramide Complex. It’s pretty magical. To get in on any future Hanbang Social Event batches and other artisanal skincare, check out Chel’s Holy Snails Co-Op.

Essence: COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence

Key points: Alcohol-free, fragrance-free, calming, emollient, and reparative

I’m pretty sure most of you guys are already well aware of my love affair with the humble, slimy snail, so I won’t belabor the point yet again. I’ll just say that this smooth, snaily, simple slime is a nonnegotiable part of my Save My Face routine. The couple of times I’ve skipped it in the spirit of experimentation (early onset senility, more like), the flaking has made me regret it within hours.

Since I’m also very fond of the COSRX Advanced Snail 92 All In One Cream, let me just make sure you know that the essence and cream are available in the Fiddy Snails snail value set from Memebox!

Serum: Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Serum**

Key points: Alcohol-free, humectants, proven anti-inflammatory extracts

Like the Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Masks, which I tend to buy in packs of 10 and keep handy at all times in case of skinmergency, the Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Serum lives up to its name. This is a smooth, thick, substantial, yet somehow weightless and fast-absorbing calming and moisturizing serum with the same light and classy, non-irritating (for me) vegetal scent as the Klairs toner. It’s deeply refreshing, increases my skin’s water content by a good 16% or so upon application, and helps transform my skin from painfully dry to plump and healthy. I asked Wishtrend for this at the same time as the toner (I am a very fussy and demanding sponsee and I also requested the BB cream). I’m already almost out of the serum after three weeks. I’ve been slathering enthusiastically.

Ingredients: Water, sodium hyaluronate, butylene glycol, PEG-60 hydrogenated castor oil, dimethyl sulfone, betaine, natto gum, disodium EDTA, centella asiatica extract, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root extract, carbomer, arginine, lysine HCL, proline, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, acetyl methionine, theanine, chlorphenesin, tocopheryl acetate, illicium verum (anise) fruit extract, citrus paradisi (grapefruit) fruit extract, nelumbium speciosum flower extract, paeonia suffruticosa root extract, scutellaria baicalensis root extract, panthenol, luffa cylindrica fruit/leaf/stem extract, beta glucan, aloe barbadensis leaf extract, perfume, portulaca oleracea extract, apium graveolens (celery) extract, brassica oleracea capitata (cabbage) leaf extract, brassica oleracea italica (broccoli) extract, brassica rapa (turnip) leaf extract, daucus carota sativa (carrot) root extract, oryza sativa (rice) bran extract, solanum lycopersicum (tomato) fruit/leaf/stem extract (CosDNA analysis)

My alternative (or, when time allows, add-on) to the Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Serum is my precious Scinic Snail All In One Ampoule, which I recently reviewed. Like the Klairs serum, the Scinic Snail AIO contains a nice selection of anti-inflammatory extracts to boost its calming powers. The Scinic snail ampoule also includes niacinamide for additional ceramide production.

Cream: Freeset Donkey Milk 3D Moisture Cream

Key points: Ceramides, cholesterol, free fatty acids, humectants, and yet more calming extracts

Are you still with me? We’re at the final step of my core dry skin sample routine! Freeset Donkey Milk 3D Moisture Cream holds a special place in my heart as the cream that’s occlusive enough to hold in nearly all the moisture in my skin even overnight, when I’m mashing my face into my pillow for hours at a timeWHILE SLEEPING! GET YOUR MINDS OUT OF THE GUTTER!, yet is light and fast-drying enough to use during the day. It has a slippy, pleasant texture, works well with all of my other skincare layers, doesn’t leave me greasy, and doesn’t crap out before the end of the day. Flakes avoided, soft and glowy skin achieved. No matter how much the tret and the weather conspire against me.

I own a lot of creams and I like a lot of my creams, but I’ve yet to find the cream that can compare to the Freeset at this point in my skin’s journey to tretinoin nirvana. Most of my other creams are either a bit too heavy or shiny to wear during the day, or aren’t quite moisturizing enough unless I mix in a drop of face oil. Donkey milk all the way.

Recap and Dry Skin Best Practices

Are you a little overwhelmed? Fiddy feel that and Fiddy very sorry. To help ease the digestion, here’s a quick recap of the key things to look for and the key things to avoid as you assemble your skincare routine for parched and pissy skin:

  • Avoid drying alcohols
  • Avoid the harsher surfactants in cleansers–now’s the time to give SLS and SLES a pass if you can and definitely avoid high-pH cleansers
  • Avoid any ingredients you know irritate your skin (this is where developing ingredient awareness and keeping track of your skincare experiments can come in very handy)
  • Exercise caution with actives and exfoliants. While I have a hard time giving up my Curology, even when my skin is not happy with me, I do drop my AHA and BHA at the first sign of a weakened skin barrier. Strong, abrasive physical exfoliants (scrubs) are also a no-go. When my skin starts flaking and the flakes get too annoying to endure, I’ll go very gently at my skin with a mild physical exfoliator like the Mizon Seaweed Jelly Scrub, but even that is only a 2x/week max product during hard times like these.
  • Seek out ceramides, cholesterol, and other emollient fatty acids, such as those found in plant oils. Your skin barrier needs these to reinforce its weakened defenses against irritation and moisture loss.
  • Seek out niacinamide, which stimulates increased ceramide production while also helping to soothe irritation and inflammation.
  • Seek out anti-inflammatory ingredients that your skin can handle.
  • Seal in all of your hydrating and moisturizing skincare steps with the most occlusive cream you can comfortably wear.

What’s your dry skin routine and what are your favorite sensitive skin saviors?

© 2015 unless otherwise noted (copyright and sharing policy)


37 thoughts on “Save My Tretface: A Dry Skin Sample Routine and Best Practices

      1. Yeah I won’t kill it entirely. I have stuff to say about whole body dryness. It all ties into my mental health theme. I struggled with dry skin on my entire body for most of my life and a few years back I learned to layer and it changed everything. The AB life style just made sense from there and it’s progressed. I’m telling the story piece by piece because honestly when people compliment my skin I often just shrug it off or agree when they say I have good genes because if I explained my whole routine and they followed suit it could cause damage.

        So I’m starting with a history of my skin and how it impacted my life post and moving on to how I overcame different skin care hurdles while trying to stress YMMV. I mean I had doctors promise a product would be my miracle product and faced disappointment until I thought of layering. Finding out that other people had been doing so for years was a huge shock! I have this torn situation where I want to race about what I’ve learned but I also don’t want to be the instigator to someone jumping in all at once and failing.

        I honesty don’t know how you handle having so many people look up to you! It would stress me out so much because I would be afraid that people would follow to closely and blame me for the damage. I’ve seen it happen to Kerry. As though Benton’s preservative choices were all in here control? Eeek! You’ve said most of what I want to say but we do all have our own skin and or own story. I mean… I’m jealous of your Banilla Co mask results. We have similar skin concerns and climates so WHY can’t I love them? The Instagram friends I’ve gifted the remainder of my pack to were happy to try them out though so they went to good use.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I know…I get really nervous about recommending things, more so than I make clear, I think. It’s one of the reasons I try to preach YMMV at every opportunity! 😓

        I can’t wait to read more from you especially on the mental health theme!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Mental health is a big thing of mine. I read your intro on MEMEBOX this past week and now I need to find your post on using skincare to battle depression. Would you mind if I linked to it if if applies?

        You are already in the bloggers I admire post like it or not. Your blog was the final nail in the “my stuff isn’t good enough,” coffin for me. I looked at my favorite blogs and realized the reason I didn’t have one “go to,” guide was because the personalities of the people writing mattered to me. So my personality is inconsistent and kind of weird… That’s me. I’m not going to morph into someone else so while I can’t write as eloquently as my favorite blogs that doesn’t mean my words aren’t still valid. I’ve been sitting in three years of product notes and suddenly it seemed almost selfish not or share. I could meet other people with a similar journey! You came up during one of my internet dark phases but I’ve been in r/Asianbeauty since the start and then when I saw that you and Samantha both had issues with depression and used skincare to treat them I had an moment of narcissism. Maybe… Just maybe there is someone else out there that my words could impact too… Or maybe I’ll just be known as the girl with impossibly high sheet mask standards. I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m not afraid anymore and you helped with that.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. That means so so so much to me. Huge Internet hugs, and of course you can link anything of mine that you want!

        Don’t at all feel that your stuff isn’t “good enough”! I’m slowly and painfully working on a supposedly casual discussion of developing one’s own blogger voice, and IMO so much of it boils down to being true to yourself and expressing that in an authentic way, which I see you doing already, much more than many other up-and-coming AB bloggers. I always enjoy your posts because I can feel the person behind them–they’re not just color-by-numbers copies of others’ work. I’m sure your words will have plenty of impact 😘


  1. Oh Fiddy – you always seem to post stuff that is exactly what I need and exactly when I need it. A couple days ago I sent a message to my Derm at Curology telling her what’s been going on with my face lately. It’s been super flaky and Sahara Desert dry. I’m pretty sure I did some damage to my moisture barrier somehow even though I hadn’t changed anything. She told me to drop everything, even Curology, except for a very mild cleanser, a moisturizer, and a physical sunscreen. Ohhh Noooo! But, but, but I NEED all that other stuff. But, I have been very good and dropped most of my lovely essences and extras. But, as soon as I feel that my face is better, I cannot wait to get everything added back in. Some of my favorites are the Hada Labo Hyaluronic moist, Cosrx Advanced Snail 96, Scinic Honey AIO, Dr. Jart Ceramidin Cream, and I recently got the Cosrx rice mask but haven’t had a chance to really test it yet. I am really eyeing the Freeset Donkey Milk Cream. Maybe I can find some samples of that to see if it will work with my picky skin.
    Thank again for this perfect post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw! Thank you and I hope it helps and that your skin gets back to normal soon! I do think that even without changing anything else and even with very minimal use of other actives, tret must weaken the skin barrier significantly since it’s forcing new layers to surface much quicker. Just the drawback we have to deal with to enjoy the benefits, but man, my skin has literally never felt this dry! And Dr Jart is excellent too! I need to take another look at the ingredients for the liquid, since I think I disqualified it based on lack of the 3:1:1 combo.


  2. I love how you always make sure people know how personal skin care is 🙂 I spent half a post one talking about spot testing 😅😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s really important, isn’t it? I get really passionate about the products I love, but I try to make sure I never fall into to “DIS SO GUD U JUST BUY IT NOW” trap because…you know…YMMV 😂


      1. Oh my gosh, seriously…but I understand because Innisfree is right across from my apartment and etude house and skinfood are not far…..which is why I use really only their products….because I always spot test everything before using it. I don’t care if my Dr.recommended it, because once I turned into a giant red balloon from using a prescription 😂😂😱

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! I’ve been eyeing the Freeset Donkey Milk 3D Moisture Cream for a while now, as I’ve been looking for a heavy cream that is light and fast-drying enough to wear during the day! As much as I am in love with the hydration of Banila Co.’s Miss Flower & Mr Honey cream for the night times, the texture is just too heavy for during the day! WIll give the donkey milk a go! 🙂

    Also after reading your review on the Mizon Seaweed Jelly Scrub, I’m about 1 button press way from purchasing it! How does it stack up against Skinfood’s strawberry sugar wash off mask? I don’t have a problem with physical scrubs, it’s not too harsh for me. Does the seaweed jelly scrub provide the same effects as the strawberry scrub? I hate the bucket/jar packaging of the strawberry scrub, the tube packaging of the seaweed jelly scrub looks perfect!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you’re looking for something comparable to the Skinfood strawberry scrub, I’m afraid the Mizon seaweed jelly scrub is not out. It’s way way way more gentle; I hardly even think of it as a scrub. The most it will do is fully dislodge flakes that have already formed, which is the reason I prefer it when my skin is in a compromised state. And I’m racking my brain and can’t think of a scrub I’ve used that comes in a tube! That’s really a big oversight, as I too would prefer that. So much more sanitary and easier to dispense.

      Your reasons for wanting the Freeset cream are totally spot on. I adore the Banila Co cream, but I’ve just not found it possible to use during the day with my sunscreens. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!


      1. Ahhh, I think Ill stick with Skinfood’s strawberry scrub then. Yeah, my boyfriend likes to use my strawberry scrub every now and then, and I’m always nagging him to make sure his hands are super clean before he touches the stuff haha! Although I swear he only washes his hands before if I’m watching….

        Thanks for taking the time to reply! I’ve got the Freeset cream on the way and I can’t wait to slap it on my face 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I live in a tropical country, but had a trip to Europe a few weeks ago, and this was one of my biggest packing problems: my skin care routine to deal with the colder climate AND the godawful airplane air. I ditched my acids for the two weeks and also brought a moisturizer (the Benton Steam Cream) to layer under my sunscreen, which I normally don’t need to do when I’m at home (is that bad???). At night, I alternated with the CosRx Honey Ceramide Cream and Overnight Rice Mask, although found myself using the Ceramide more. I also planned my sheet masks accordingly, bringing more than I would usually use if I were home. I brought some staples, but the real moisturizing champ was the Etude House I Need You Honey mask, which I tried the first time, and I thought it was great. I can honestly say that I have you to thank that I was a lot more conscious about changing my skin care routine in relation to the conditions my skin will be exposed to. Thanks to you, nary a flake in sight during my trip! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love this, thanks for writing it! Just a note because this is all obviously very front-of-mind for me right now: Ceramide Complex has about 2.5% ceramides, 0.5% cholesterol (so a 5:1 ratio), and no fatty acids. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I was just reading up on its benefits the other day and remembered that it was one of the key ingredients in this serum—it made me appreciate the unassuming little guy a lot more 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Fiddy! It’s been a while, because I fell into depression then ran out of Banila CO clean it zero, then ran out of money and thus fell off the self care wagon. But I have been following the blog quietly. My Jolse order came this week which means I have forced myself back into self care and am trying out the COSRX Snail cream! It’s so gooey, I love it. I got the COSRX hyaluronic cream too because my life needs more creams (NO IT DOESNT) and the rice mask for Mochi face!

    I’m not sure propolis is for me, I think the Tosowoong sparkle is sooooo sticky.

    And kelp sheet masks – too scented.

    But I am still faithful to mah lil snaileys!

    Ooh did I say?! Jolse sent me socks! They are so tiny they’re getting passed to a non Yeti footed friend (I’m a shoe size US 10!) but they’re so cute 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ahh. The dry skin woes may be more of my problem than the sunscreen. It is colder weather here in the mid-Atlantic region which means dry gas heated air in my house. Bone dry air! Must add more moisture. Much more.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This might be old news but was just doing some reading about sebaceous glands & sebum (I know, weird). I didn’t realize retinol decreases the amount of sebum that gets produced (thus some of the dryness). But it seems to me, the fatty acids in sebum are at least a part (if not the whole cause) of what makes the acid part of skin’s acid barrier. I think it’s gotta be worth investigating this more and maybe replacing fatty acids when using retinol. Just a thought.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yup, fatty acids are extremely important part of the acid mantle and so it definitely is a big reason to oil it up when using a strong retinoid!

      Just some anecdote, last night I didn’t use my Goodal Repair Plus Essential Oil because I was testing a certain sleeping pack and didn’t want to throw it off by adding an extra oil that would possibly give it better results than the product could on its own…


      Boy my face felt dry this morning.


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