Dry skin is no fun, whether its due to a change in weather or climate or due to other reasons such as genetically alipidic skin or chronic dehydration. It can feel constantly itchy, unevenly textured, appear prematurely aged, and feel tight to the point that you feel like your skin might tear from smiling (and for some severe cases, it can). Even washing dry skin with plain water can be painful–especially in the winter.
I’ll be honest with you–I never thought I’d experience dry skin. As someone who, for the majority of my life had oily, clogged, acneic skin, I used to actually envy people with dry skin. People with pores so tiny, they’d never show blackheads or sebaceous filaments. People who never had to carry around blotting papers, or worry about looking like a sweaty mess in a group photo or while giving a presentation. People who never had to worry about a big ole’ nasty zit popping up right before a special occasion.
Of course later on I learned a lot more about skin both on the surface (as an aesthetician and formulator) and below (as a health coach, herbalist, and functional nutrition practitioner) and realized that oily skin actually does have perks and isn’t a cause of acne. I also learned that dry skin doesn’t mean no acne, and it comes with a whole slew of other uncomfortable skin issues. So I began to appreciate my oily skin–especially when my acne cleared and I began to see that my skin was not showing signs of age as quickly as my dry skinned friends.
For years, my skin did really well with a minimalist regimen of just an oil cleanser, simple toner, and facial oil serum for my moisturizer. I used more saturated, expansive lipids in my winter blends, and less saturated, “drier” oils in my summer blends to adjust my skincare to my skin’s seasonal needs. If I felt like experimenting with new water-soluble ingredients, maybe I’d make a cream–but I never liked layering products on top of products in complicated skincare regimens. Maybe that’s because I believed the marketing hype I was sold years ago with the acne “systems” I used to buy–and even what I was taught at trade shows and manufacturers’ product education classes taught by professional skincare companies. Once I realized that my skin–and my wallet–didn’t like all those different products, I stripped my regimen WAY down. And until this fall, that was enough.
Until it wasn’t.
This past fall, I switched up my oil serum as usual, and made a really lovely blend that I loved using, but for some reason, it wasn’t enough. For the first time in my life, my skin felt dry all day long, to the point where it was uncomfortable. I made sure all my ingredients were fresh and hadn’t gone rancid. Yup, all fine. I made sure I hadn’t introduced something new or toxic into our household cleaning products or other personal care products. Check, all good.
I made sure I applied my oil serum while my skin still had water on it from the shower, or from my hydrosol toner, and still, I woke up feeling like my pillowcase was sandpaper on my skin. I started adding a layer of shea nilotica butter on top of the oil serum, thinking my skin needed an even MORE saturated lipid to keep in the moisture. Nope, no dice. I also started using a wellness tracking app to me sure I was getting enough sleep and drinking enough water for my weight. My skin still felt dry–even in the notoriously oily t-zone area.
What changed to make me all of the sudden have such dry skin?
I’ve gone through 40 other Northeastern/MidAtlantic US falls and winters. But in this 41st one, my skin has changed to the point where my normal seasonal oil blend tweaks were no longer enough. As I mentioned in my last post (which you can read HERE), the skin needs both water AND oil to be thoroughly moisturized at any time of year. The skin also does not get enough water from the water we drink, and I’m going to say this again, while oils help to seal hydration into the skin, they DO NOT HYDRATE the skin on their own.
So, I needed to mitigate this new dry skin situation by adding more water into my topical skincare regimen.
Here are 4 steps I took to achieve balanced moisture on my 41 year old skin this season:
1. I switched from cleansing with a cleansing oil to cleansing with raw honey. Honey is a powerful humectant, and it also is rich with natural sugars that nourish the skin’s microbiome, enzymes, and antioxidants. It cleanses effectively, and does a great job of hydrating–and contrary to what you might think because of its stickiness, it is very easy to remove with a warm, soft cloth.
2. I changed up my hydrosols from rose and witch hazel which are both tightening/astringent to chamomile and geranium, which are less intense on drier, more sensitive skin. Instead of preserving it with alcohol, which can be drying, I switched my preservative to a low percentage of a lactofermented antimicrobial (I teach you how to do this correctly and safely, by the way, in my Create Your Skincare online courses).
3. I made a thick, rich, luxurious, humectant-rich cream. I chose my ingredients according to my Skin Sequencing? method (which I teach exclusively in Create Your Skincare Professional Edition), and instead of distilled water which is actually too alkaline for the skin, I used lower pH hydrosols, and humectant-rich aloe and one of my handmade glycerites. I also added nourishing oils and demulcent/mucilaginous herbal extracts, along with natural emulsifier and antimicrobials. The formula is simple but each ingredient was chosen for a specific purpose for my unique skin, because I didn’t want to overwhelm my already-freaking-out skin with an overly complicated formula. I apply this underneath my oil serum.
4. I sleep with a humidifier, and we also have hepafilters in the house. Humidifiers are a great way to counteract drying forced air heating systems and fireplace air’s effects on the skin. However, with humidifiers, you really have to be careful to clean them properly and change the filters often, as they can breed mold. Our hepafilters are to help clean the air of potential mold spores, and other irritant, drying particles.
These changes have restored my skin’s moisture and glow, and have made it look and feel as good as it does in the summer when there’s an abundance of humidity.
What if you don’t want to add a lotion or cream?
I know a lot of purist holistic aestheticians and skincare enthusiasts who don’t like to use creams or lotions, because they don’t want products with emulsifiers or preservatives. I strongly believe that there are safe, and even beneficial emulsifiers available these days–and new ones continue to enter the market. But I get that some people just don’t want to go there.
If that describes you, then you might be fine applying a tepid herbal compress of a demulcent/mucilaginous herb blend (marshmallow, hibiscus, elderflower, and oats are lovely), or apply a one-time use DIY mix of this blend with some fresh aloe vera gel as a hydrating serum under your oil. If you want to take the time to do that, and it’s giving you the results you want, then go for it! But if you’d like something that’s shelf stable that you don’t have to whip up every day, then it’s a great idea to learn how to make herbal creams and lotions safely.
Do you have dry skin?
What’s worked for you to help it stay hydrated, especially during the winter or if you live in a desert climate? Please share your best tips in the comments below!
Want to learn more about how to use herbs inside and out for gorgeous, glowing skin all year round?
Check out the Herbal Skincare Summit. You can now purchase anytime access to all 18 herbal skincare classes, get awesome bonuses, plus the exclusive Herbal Skincare Summit Companion e-Book!
**Althaea officinalis image by H. Zell – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9008527