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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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