How to fix dry, itchy skin

Renee Zellwegger

Expert-approved products and tips for irritated skin

Beauty Crew Beauty Writer / July 15 2019

Whether you’re battling the effects of winter, suffering from eczema or an allergic reaction to a product, or have undergone a laser treatment or cosmetic peel, we’re sure you’ll agree just how fickle it can be to treat flaky, itchy skin. Pretty much *everything* you smear on your face (or whole body) makes it feel irritated and sore. 

Sensitive skin usually has a weaker skin barrier, which means irritants (say from certain ingredients or colder weather) can penetrate your skin more easily. Having damaged skin also means moisture will escape more easily, causing more dryness, itchiness and aggravating the skin’s condition even more.

So, what can you do if your skin feels like a giant itchy rash? Well, aesthetician Sarah Hudson from Skin by Sarah Hudson says depending on the severity of your skin, there are some specific products and steps that should help get your skin back on track.

#1 / Prevent further dryness

“Avoid any water (especially hot water) on your face, [as] water exacerbates sensitive itchy skin. It is important you don’t get your face wet even whilst showering or washing your hair,” says Hudson. She recommends avoiding water for up to five days after your skin first becomes irritated to give it time to calm down and begin healing. 

“Opt for waterless cleansing products that can be wiped off the face with soft facial cloths, such as Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser,” she says. A micellar water is another great option.

Hudson also recommends applying a thin layer of Vaseline to your face to help prevent any further moisture loss, and to “avoid wearing makeup as much as possible as it needs to be cleansed from the skin, adding to the sensitivity”.

#2 / Repair and protect your skin’s barrier

After those first four to five days, Hudson says you’re ready for step two. Here, you’re going to want to do everything you can to repair and protect your skin’s barrier in order to prevent the common cause of dry, irritated skin - water loss. “Use bottled water to cleanse the face - you may need to do this for a few weeks,” she advises. Bottled water? Yep – prepare to have your mind blown. Tap water has a high mineral composition, containing heavy metals like iron, copper and zinc, which can lead to redness and irritation. It can also contain chlorine, which is very drying and strips the skin of natural oils. Bottled water has had contaminants and minerals removed, making it a good choice for irritated skin.

You’ll also want to switch your waterless cleanser for a pH-balancing cleanser, as this will help repair the skin’s natural barrier, preventing any further dryness and dehydration. “Change cleanser to a gentle cleansing product that has a pH similar to the skin (5.5), such as Skin by Sarah Hudson Gentle Cleanser,” says Hudson. She adds that while oil or creamy cleansers may make the skin feel less dry, they don’t repair the damage so they’re best avoided. 

It’s also important to upgrade your moisturiser to one that has ingredients that’ll boost hydration, soothe irritation, and help heal skin (like vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, sunflower oils) as this will help reverse skin damage by repairing the surface cell, giving a strong barrier to the skin. We like Bioderma Cicabio Crème because it not only hydrates and soothes the skin, but also relives the urge to itch.  

Thanks to their phenomenal hydrating qualities, facial oils are basically the dream product for those suffering from a complexion that’s a little too dry – so don’t overlook this step. “I love, love, love facial oils,” says Hudson. “The correct facial oil can bring amazing change to a red, irritated, and dehydrated skin.” They basically mimic your skin’s natural oils to not only replenish and rejuvenate skin, but also keep it hydrated for longer.

“Look for facial oils that contain vitamin E and oil-soluble vitamin C,” recommends Hudson. “The integrity of facial oils can be very delicate, [so] ensure you put lids on, use them up within a 12-month period and always check expiry dates.” We like Paula’s Choice Resist Moisture Renewal Oil Booster because it’s gentle, fragrance-free and packed with antioxidants and nourishing plant oils. 

What to avoid

Watch those anti-agers! If you’re suffering from dry, itchy skin, put down any kind of products with active ingredients because they’ll do you more harm than good. Ingredients like AHAs may help fight the signs of ageing, but they can also strip your dry skin of the oil it needs – for this reason, Hudson says to avoid any AHA ingredients that may be found in cleansers, serum and masks. At least until your skin is back to normal. 

“When the skin is irritated, the concentration of AHA ingredients applied to the skin intensifies, leading to an increase of skin irritation,” she says. “Especially avoid AHAs such as glycolic acid, as they have a small molecular structure leading to an increase of sensitivity. Exfoliating scrubs lead to more irritation and dehydration, too.”   

Also steer clear of any fragrances and choose unscented skin care products, as fragrances can cause itching and even more irritation.

If you're suffering from contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, skin infections or other skin conditions, and are experiencing intense itching and flaking of the skin, we recommend booking in with your nearest dermatology clinic.

Want more tips on how to look after dry skin? Here are eight dermatologist-approved dry skin tips. Hint...you're going to want to get that humidifier out!  

What skin problems do you suffer from? What over-the-counter products do you use to help get it back on track? Let us know in the comment section below.

Main image credit: Getty

Erin Docherty is a Beauty Writer for BEAUTYcrew and a Grooming Writer for Men's Health magazine. She has a keen interest in cosmeceutical skin care and is currently working on minimising her 9-step skin care routine – because ain’t nobody got time for that. When she’s not writing about the latest beauty news, or applying copious amounts of serum, you can find her spending all her money in Sephora.