What ingredients help treat dry skin?

There’s a reason hyaluronic acid is so buzzy—“it’s the gold standard for hydration,” says Dr. Dr. Hope Mitchell, a board-certified dermatologist in Northwest Ohio.¹ “Hyaluronic acid holds its weight in water. It brings water into the skin and it holds onto it.” Ceramides, fats produced in the skin, are good to look out for. “If we can fatten the skin up with more ceramides, it’s almost like we can build that wall of protection against the outside environment,” says Dr. Mitchell. Glycerin, which might be listed on nearly every product in your shower, is another reliable hydrator. And urea “is the bomb.com,” she says, “because you can kind of go from very small percentages in over-the-counter products to prescriptions of 30% to 40%.” Urea does double duty: it holds in moisture and softens the skin.

Stearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, and prolipids are emollients (aka moisturizers) that can help restore the skin barrier—these are fatty alcohols and fatty acids (fat is generally a good word for skin). Unlike ethanol-based alcohols, these soften and hydrate the skin, so don’t be thrown off by the term “alcohol” here.

Antioxidants, like vitamins E (tocopheryl acetate) and C, are hydrating. Petroleum jelly, aloe vera, and colloidal oatmeal can moisturize and soothe dry, inflamed skin. When a patient has “itchy, itchy” skin, Dr. Mitchell might recommend a hydrocortisone cream to treat the itch, but notes that it won’t get to the root of the dry skin issue—it won’t hydrate the skin. Dry skin on the brink of eczema or psoriasis might benefit from a steroid cream.

Most moisturizing creams will combine a few hydrating ingredients (except for petroleum jelly and aloe vera), to reap as many of their benefits as possible. And fun fact, most of these ingredients naturally occur in the body (like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides), so it’s not like introducing mysterious newcomers who might not get along with everyone else at the party. They almost always do.

¹Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging by Eleni Papakonstantinou, Michael Roth, and George Karakiulakis. Dermato Endocrinology.

More Information

What ingredients should you avoid with dry skin?

Read Now

What chemical exfoliants are safe for dry/sensitive skin?

Read Now

Get Updates

There’s more to come.

Sign up to receive periodical updates on Mass Index, and to be the first to know when Soft Services launches new products. (If we don’t have any updates, we won’t email you.)

Dry Skin

Skin that's losing more moisture than it's able to maintain.

Also Called

Dehydrated skin, xerosis

Looks Like

View Gallery

Frequently Found On

Arms, legs, feet, hands

Learn More: Dry Skin