Causes of Dry Patches on Your Face and How to Treat Them

Dry patches on your face can be caused by skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis. Sometimes, they're the result of environmental or lifestyle factors (cold air, hot showers, poor nutrition).

Dry patches can make your skin flaky or scaly. This article goes over potential causes of dry skin and how to treat them.

How to Prevent Facial Dry Patches

Verywell / Dennis Madamba

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a long-term inflammatory skin condition that causes dry patches. These appear as discolored, thickened, silver, or gray plaques that are hard to get rid of.

You can have psoriasis anywhere, but about 50% of people with psoriasis have it on their face. However, it's rarely just on the face. Most people with psoriasis have it on other areas, such as the scalp.

Skin Color and Psoriasis

The way your psoriasis looks depends on your skin tone. On Black or dark brown people, patches may be violet or dark brown with gray scales. On lighter skin, it's usually pink or red with silvery or whitish scales.

Treatment

Treating facial psoriasis can be challenging because face skin is very sensitive and more complicated to treat than other areas.

Psoriasis treatment may include:

  • Topical (on the skin) medicated lotion
  • Gentle non-soap skin cleansers
  • Moisturizers
  • Low-potency corticosteroid cream
  • Other topical products, such as salicylic acid (a descaling agent)
  • Systemic treatment, such as oral medications (pills) or injections

Eczema

Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a common skin condition that causes flare-ups involving dry, irritated skin. It's often inherited and starts during childhood, but some adults develop eczema as well.

Eczema affects nearly 16.5 million adults in the United States and nearly 15% of children. Initial symptoms are itchiness and discoloration. On the face, eczema is most common on the cheeks and around the eyes.

As with many skin problems, eczema looks red or pink on light skin. Eczema on darker skin tones may be dark brown, purple, or ashy gray.

Treatment

Treatment for eczema depends on its severity. It may include home remedies to manage symptoms and/or prescription medications. Home remedies may include:

  • Daily cleansing and moisturizing
  • Eliminating contact with irritants and allergens (e.g., wool and other itchy fabrics)

Medications for eczema include:

  • Topical (on the skin) corticosteroid ointments and creams: Mild steroids are available over the counter (OTC), but stronger topical corticosteroids require a prescription.
  • Systemic corticosteroids: These are prescribed in pill form or as an injectable medication. These drugs may help when topical corticosteroids are ineffective. 
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors: These help prevent flare-ups by suppressing the immune system.
  • Barrier repair moisturizers: These relieve dry skin and help repair the skin by preventing water loss. They're available by prescription (Epiceram cream) or OTC (CeraVe and Cetaphil lotion). 
  • Phototherapy: This is the use of UVA or UVB waves to treat moderate symptoms of dermatitis.
  • Biologic agent: A drug called Dupixent (dupilumab) is used for more severe eczema.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema caused by something you're allergic to or that irritates your skin. It looks like eczema but doesn't run in families.

Contact dermatitis isn't generally linked with other allergic conditions (such as hay fever or asthma).

Treatment

Treatment for contact dermatitis includes:

  • Pinpointing and avoiding the allergen or irritant that caused the skin reaction
  • Topical steroids
  • Systemic (injectable) corticosteroids for widespread cases

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition that primarily impacts the scalp, but it can also be found on other areas of the body, including oily areas like the:

  • Hairline
  • Sides of the nose
  • Eyebrows
  • Ears
  • Eyelids
  • Over the breastbone (sternum)

Experts suspect it's caused by an abnormal immune system reaction to a type of yeast that normally lives on the skin, called Malassezia yeast.

Treatment

Mild cases of seborrheic dermatitis are often treated with:

  • OTC medicated dandruff shampoo
  • Prescription topical antifungal cream
  • Prescription antifungal shampoo

Severe Seborrheic Dermatitis

Severe cases may be treated with topical corticosteroids to reduce itching and inflammation. Your healthcare provider may suggest a daily cleanser with 2% zinc pyrithione followed by a natural moisturizer.

Other Causes of Dry Patches

Common causes of dry patches on the face include:

  • Age
  • Climate (how hot, cold, and dry it is)
  • Environment (what you're exposed to)
  • Genetics
  • Occupation
  • Dehydration
  • Showering or bathing in hot water
  • Poor nutrition 

Diagnosing Dry Patches on the Face

Healthcare providers can usually diagnose dry skin on the face with just a physical examination. But they may also use various tests to help identify the underlying cause of that dry skin. Tests may include:

  • Allergy tests (such as a skin prick test) to assess the reaction to potential allergens
  • A blood test to look for an underlying disease (such as kidney disease or diabetes) that may be causing dry skin
  • A skin biopsy to test for eczema

Treating and Preventing Dry Patches on the Face

When it comes to dry patches that aren't caused by a skin condition, you can treat or prevent dry skin on your face with a good skin care regimen. That may include:

  • Keeping showers under 10 minutes and using warm—not hot—water
  • Washing daily with a mild, fragrance-free cleanser
  • Applying cleanser gently, without scrubbing
  • Patting the face dry instead of vigorously rubbing the skin
  • Applying a good moisturizer immediately after bathing or showering while the skin is still damp

Other things you can do to prevent dry patches include:

  • Managing stress, which can increase your risk of eczema flare-ups
  • Minimizing sun exposure, as the sun dries your natural oils
  • Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Eating healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, and wild-caught cold-water fish)
  • Not smoking, as nicotine dries out the skin
  • Using a humidifier to moisturize the air

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

Contact your healthcare provider if you have dry skin patches on your face that:

  • Have signs of infection (such as discolored, warm, swollen skin)
  • Are painful to touch
  • Itch bad enough to interfere with sleep or daily activities
  • Are accompanied by a rash
  • Don't get better with an improved skin-care routine and other attempts at treatment or management

Summary

Dry skin patches on the face may be caused by several skin conditions, including psoriasis and several forms of dermatitis (eczema). Treatment depends on the underlying conditions.

You may also have dry patches on your face due to age, environmental factors, dehydration, or genetics. You can prevent dry patches with a good skin-care routine, stress management, drinking more water, or using a humidifier.

A Word From Verywell

If you have dry patches of skin on your face that don't go away on their own, and especially if they're severe or getting worse, see your healthcare provider. They may diagnose and treat you, or they may refer you to a dermatologist.

Either way, that's the first step toward clearing up those dry patches ane finding the treatments that work well for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I get rid of dry skin on my face?

    You may be able to make small changes that get rid of dry skin on your face:

    • Limit your shower or bath time to less than 10 minutes.
    • Use warm water instead of hot.
    • Wash with a mild, fragrance-free cleanser.
    • Apply a moisturizer right after washing.
    • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air.
    • Avoid facial skin care products that contain alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), fragrance, and retinoids.

    If those steps don't help, you may want to see a dermatologist.

  • What causes red, dry patches on the face?

    Red, dry patches on the face can be caused by skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis. If the patches are warm, swollen, painful to touch, severely itch, or are accompanied by a rash, see a healthcare provider.

    If you have dark skin, dry patches may look purplish or darker than your skin tone.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. New Zealand Trust: DermNet NZ. Facial psoriasis.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology. Can you get psoriasis if you have skin of color?.

  3. National Eczema Association. Eczema stats.

  4. National Eczema Association. Contact dermatitis.

  5. National Eczema Association. Seborrheic dermatitis.

  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Dermatologists' top tips for relieving dry skin.

  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association (ADA). Dermatologists' top tips for relieving dry skin.

By Sherry Christiansen
Sherry Christiansen is a medical writer with a healthcare background. She has worked in the hospital setting and collaborated on Alzheimer's research.