Dry, flaky skin can be uncomfortable, so it’s tempting to take comfort with a hot bath or steamy shower. When caring for dry skin, be proactive. While bathing is necessary, it can also be detrimental to dry skin, so take some precautions to avoid making the problem worse.
Keep It Short
Warm baths and showers can sometimes feel so amazing that it’s tempting to bathe longer than you should. More time under the water, though, leads to drier skin. You know you might have done damage if your skin is “pruny” or wrinkled when you get out. Keep baths and showers to 10 minutes at the most, and don’t bathe more than once a day unless you get very dirty or sweaty. Bonus: You’ll save water, which could reduce your utility bills as well.
Pick the Right Temperature
Remember, everything in moderation—including your water temperature. Cool or lukewarm water helps prevent dry skin from worsening. Avoid hot water, even during the coldest months, because it can strip skin of its natural protective barrier. How warm is too warm? If your skin is red when you come out of the shower, the water you used was too hot.
Swap Out Your Soap
You want to get clean when you bathe, but odds are you’re doing more than you need. When you apply soap or cleanser, use small amounts of a gentle, fragrance-free product; skip overapplying it in places that aren’t especially dirty or smelly, like your legs, chest, back and arms. Harsh, alkaline soaps can irritate existing dryness and even cause a rash.
Caring for your dry skin shouldn’t stop when you step out of the bath or shower—in fact, that’s when some of the most important protection starts. When you towel off, blot or pat skin gently rather than rubbing it dry. Your objective is to leave skin a little wet so you can “lock in” that dampness with a moisturizer. If your skin is chronically dry, try a moisturizing cream or ointment rather than a lotion. Creams and ointments are thicker and often oilier, making them more effective at retaining moisture.
This article has been reviewed by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Emmy Graber.