Why Is My Skin So Dry Even When I Moisturize?

Do you moisturize and then wonder why your skin is still so dry? Dry skin (xerosis or xeroderma) is a common problem. About 30% of people have it at any given time.

Xerosis can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex, health, or whether you try to take good care of your skin. Those factors may play a role in your dry skin, as can the time of year and where you live. 

But you can take steps beyond moisturizing to get and keep your skin feeling smooth and supple. This article looks at the many causes of dry skin, what to do about it, and when you should see a healthcare provider.

Woman applying cream on her feet in bed in the morning - stock photo

NickyLloyd / Getty Images

Symptoms of Dry Skin

  • Roughness
  • Tightness
  • Flaking
  • Scaling
  • Itching

Scratching a lot can damage your skin and lead to infections.

Reasons Skin Can Be Dry After Moisturizing: Causes of Dry Skin

When your skin is dry even after moisturizing, it’s time to look at the whole picture of what’s affecting your skin. It could be: 

  • Your habits (washing too often, long showers, using the wrong products)
  • Your environment (dry weather, air conditioning, hard water)
  • Your health (medical conditions, medications, malnutrition)
  • Aspects of who you are (age, ethnicity, genetics)


It might sound odd, but you can wash your skin too much. That’s because you can scrub off the beneficial substances that help your skin stay healthy.

Those substances are made up of oils and various acids (e.g., amino acids, hyaluronic acid) that are called natural moisturizing factor (NMF). They work as a natural barrier to keep moisture in.

Washing and Sanitizing

Frequent hand washing and hand sanitizer use can dry out your skin. To prevent it, pat your hands dry instead of rubbing them and moisturize afterward.

Harsh or Irritating Soaps and Cleansers

It’s no accident that several acids make up your NMF—skin stays healthiest in that acidic environment. 

But many soaps are alkaline (the opposite of acidic.) They’re harsh, irritating, and strip away your skin’s natural moisture.


Fragrances in skin care products can be irritating, as well. Your skin might also be damaged by added scents in laundry detergents and fabric softeners.

Fragranced products that stay on or against your skin can also lead to allergies, which cause even more skin problems. This problem is more likely if you:

  • Regularly use fragranced products against your skin
  • Have used these products long term
  • Are female
  • Have sensitive skin

Expired Ingredients in Moisturizers

If your moisturizer seems to be less effective than it used to be, check the expiration date. While moisturizers usually last for quite a while, it’s possible for the ingredients to become gradually less effective.

Storing your moisturizers near sources of heat, such as windows or heaters, may make them lose effectiveness faster.

Failure to Exfoliate

Your skin goes through a constant process of shedding dry, dead cells and replacing them with new ones. Sometimes, dead cells may build up on the skin’s surface and make it look flaky.

Gently exfoliating your skin can help slough away these cells and make your skin look and feel better.

Long or Hot Baths and Showers

A long, hot bath or shower may feel good, but heat and prolonged contact with water can strip the oils from your skin.

Many experts recommend lowering the water temperature and getting out after 10 minutes at the most. Pat your skin dry instead of rubbing, then put on lotion.

Dry Weather

Cold air is drier than warm air, so cooler weather can dry out your skin. 

But just because it’s hot out doesn’t mean your skin is safe—prolonged sun exposure can also have a drying effect.

Why Is Warm Air Wetter?

Warm air contains more moisture than cold air because water is more likely to turn to vapor at higher temperatures.

Air Conditioning

Summer dry skin can also be related to running the air conditioner because of the effects of cooler air on moisture levels. Unless you use an evaporative cooler (which uses water), the a/c that keeps you comfortable can be hard on your skin.

You may want to run a humidifier along with the a/c, especially if you live in a dry climate.

Chlorine Exposure

Swimming in chlorinated water dries your skin by stripping away the protective oils on the outermost layer. It also makes your skin more porous, which allows moisture to escape.

It’s important to wash the chlorine off your skin and moisturize it when you get out of the pool or hot tub. 

Rash After Swimming?

You may have a chlorine rash if your skin is red, itchy, tender, swollen, or scaly a few hours after swimming.

Hard Water

Hard water—which contains high levels of calcium and magnesium—can damage your skin barrier and causes dryness.

Hard water can also exacerbate skin conditions such as eczema.

Medical Conditions 

Several medical conditions can make your skin dry. This includes skin conditions that might not seem to be related to skin.

Skin conditions associated with dry skin include:

Other conditions that can dry your skin are:

If you suspect your dry skin could be related to an underlying condition, talk to your healthcare provider about it.

Acne Medication 

Topical acne medications such as retinoids and benzoyl peroxide can dry out your skin, making it irritated, red, and flaky. These side effects are usually worst in the first few weeks.

Common retinoids include:

Ask your dermatologist how you can minimize this side effect.

Other Medication Side Effects 

Several classes of medication can lead to dry, flaky, or peeling skin. They include:

Talk to your healthcare provider about how to care for your skin while you’re on these medications.


Your outer layer of skin (epidermis) is about 20% water. Dehydrated skin gets dry and loses its elasticity.

Research suggests that drinking more water can make improvements in your skin’s hydration, helping correct dryness and restore elastic properties.


Not getting the right nutrients in your diet can also impact your skin health. For example, deficiencies in certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies can dry your skin, and getting more of them is generally thought to improve skin moisture.

Key nutrients for skin health include:

Your skin may also benefit from increased dietary levels or supplements of:

Genetics and Ethnicity

Your genetic and ethnic background may influence your likelihood of developing dry skin. Research shows that your ethnicity helps determine your skin's water content and how easily it loses water.

A review of studies on this topic illuminated some differences in the skin between white people, Black people, and Asian people.

  • Asian skin: Highest water content, highest water loss
  • White skin: Second highest water content, least water loss
  • Black skin: Lowest water content, second highest water loss

Other research has identified differences in gene expression and the metabolism of lipids (fats) and other important components of skin between Black people and white people.

As researchers learn more about this, new products may be developed that are custom tailored to the skin needs of different ethnic groups.


As you get older, your epidermis loses water content, produces less oil (sebum), and goes through other changes that can lead to dry, rough skin. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says that nearly everyone has dry skin by age 60.

You’re also more likely to have medical conditions or take medications that can contribute to dry skin. 

Create a Skincare Routine for Dry Skin With the Right Products

You have a lot of options for products that treat dry skin. Your routine should include several steps every day. A commonly recommended routine involves:

  • Cleanser
  • Exfoliant (between one and three times per week)
  • Hydrating toner
  • Serum
  • Moisturizer

Cleansers and Moisturizers

Not all cleansers and moisturizers are created equal. Be sure you’re selecting products formulated for dry skin.

First, don’t use bar soap. It’s likely to dry your skin more. You’re better off with a liquid cleanser. Some experts recommend cleansing at the end of the day to remove oils and particulates that can build up on your skin during the day.

When it comes to moisturizers, the AAD says to skip the lotion and use an ointment or cream instead. They’re more effective and less likely to irritate your skin.

You should choose cleansers and moisturizers with one or more of the following ingredients: 

  • Dimethicone
  • Glycerin
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Jojoba oil
  • Lactic acid
  • Lanolin
  • Mineral oil
  • Petrolatum
  • Shea butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Aloe vera

Experts often recommend moisturizing twice a day—in the morning and before bed. For bedtime moisturizing, look for a night cream, which is usually heavier than a product meant for use during the day.

It’s best to moisturize just after bathing or showering to seal the moisture into your skin.


Regular exfoliation can keep dead cells from clogging your pores, which allows moisturizers and other skin-care products to penetrate deeper.

However, be sure to exfoliate gently. If your skin is sensitive or you’re prone to acne, use a mild product and a washcloth. For oilier skin, you may be able to use stronger products.

If you use a chemical exfoliant, experts generally recommend using it two or three times a week. If you’re exfoliating mechanically (such as with an abrasive scrub or washcloth), once a week is probably best for preventing irritation.

Never exfoliate without moisturizing afterward.

Hydrating Toners and Serums

Your skincare routine for dry skin may need to go beyond cleansing and moisturizing. Hydrating toners and serums can help improve moisture levels in your skin.

Hydrating toners can give your skin a deeper clean and get it ready for moisturizer. Look for one specifically formulated for dry skin.

Serums contain powerful oil-based or water-based liquids that your skin can easily absorb. It typically takes only a few drops for your whole face. Be sure not to use too much.

Other Ways to Hydrate Skin

Skin-care products aren’t the only way to moisturize and hydrate your skin. You can also:

  • Use a humidifier: Increasing the humidity of your environment can prevent moisture loss from your skin.
  • Change your routine with the seasons: You may need a heavier moisturizer in the winter, for example. If you spend more time outside in the summer, consider a moisturizer that contains sunscreen.
  • Stay hydrated: Be sure you’re getting enough clear fluids, so you don’t get dehydrated, especially during hot weather.
  • Eat well: A balanced diet with lots of nutrients can help your skin stay healthy.

Dry Skin vs Dehydrated Skin

The moisture in your skin comes from both water content and natural oils. Skin that lacks oil is dry, and skin that lacks water is dehydrated.

While you may benefit from seeing a dermatologist for either condition, dehydrated skin is more likely to need expert medical attention. It’s usually caused by not drinking enough fluids and/or significant sweating.

Symptoms of dehydrated skin include:

  • Dryness, itching, and dullness
  • An uneven complexion
  • Circles under your eyes or sunken eyes
  • More noticeable fine lines

Also, watch for these general symptoms of dehydration:

  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Lightheadedness
  • Weakness

When to See a Healthcare Provider for Dry Skin

With so many options for treating dry skin at home, you may not need medical help for it. See your healthcare provider if you have:

  • Itching that keeps you awake or distracts you from daily activities
  • Signs of infection (discoloring, swelling, feeling warm to the touch)
  • A rash or sores
  • Skin cracks that bleed
  • No improvement after improving your skin-care routine and using other home remedies

Your primary healthcare provider may refer you to a dermatologist (a skin specialist).


Dry skin has many causes, including poor skin-care techniques, the wrong products, environmental conditions such as heat and humidity, how you eat, and even what color your skin is. It also can be from medical conditions or medications.

You can improve dry skin with the right cleansers, moisturizers, and other skin-care products. Eating right, staying hydrated, and humidifying the air may also help.

See a healthcare provider if you don’t see improvement with a good skin-care regimen and home remedies or if you have severe symptoms.

A Word From Verywell 

Dry skin is quite common and can be uncomfortable and itchy. Don’t think you just have to live with it, though. 

If you don’t have success with simple home remedies, talk to your healthcare provider. They may be able to offer prescription products that can get your skin in better shape.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is my skin not absorbing moisturizer?

    If your moisturizer leaves a greasy residue on your skin instead of absorbing, it may be too heavy a product for your skin. Instead try something lighter, such as switching from a cream to a lotion.

  • How do you rehydrate really dry skin?

    If your skin is dehydrated, it may take more than one thing to get it properly moisturized. You can try:

    • Drinking more water
    • Using a cleanser designed for dry skin
    • Using a heavier moisturizer or moisturizing more often (at least twice a day)
    • Using a hydrating toner and/or serum
    • Keeping your baths and showers short and patting your skin dry
    • Using a humidifier in your home or workspace
  • Why is my face flaky after moisturizing?

    Flaky skin can be a symptom of many skin conditions, such as:

    • Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
    • Psoriasis
    • Ichthyosis
    • Seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff)

    Talk to your healthcare provider if you have flaky skin that doesn’t go away despite a good skin-care regimen and healthy changes to your lifestyle and environment.

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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.
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Additional Reading

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.