Why is my skin so dry, even when I moisturise?

Treating dry skin is often as easy as making a few small changes to your daily routine.

Written by
Emma Norris
Medically reviewed by
min read
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So, you've been slathering yourself with lotion morning and night, and your skin still feels dryer than the Sahara desert. In fact, it somehow feels even more tight and irritated than when you left it to its own devices. Not fun!

It can be frustrating when it feels like you're doing all the right things with your skincare routine... but instead of being rewarded with a hydrated, glowing complexion, you're left feeling like a sheet of sandpaper.

The good news is, treating dry skin is often as easy as making a few small changes to your daily routine. Read on to learn about some of the most common causes of dry skin, and how you can address them to start feeling soft and supple again.

What are the symptoms of dry skin?

The most obvious sign of dry skin is rough texture. But, skin dryness rarely exists on its own. It will usually be accompanied by other symptoms [1], including:

  • Mild to moderately itchy skin
  • Peeling, cracked, or flaky skin
  • Skin feels warm to the touch
  • A tight or raw feeling
  • A pink or red complexion
  • An ashy appearance (typically more common with brown or black skin)
  • Breakouts and congested skin

What are the causes of dry skin?

If you've noticed lingering dryness, it's important to get to the bottom of what's causing it. Some common causes include:


There are few things more comforting than taking a long, hot shower or hanging out by the heater in winter. But while these things are good for the soul, they're unfortunately not so great for your skin.

Extremely hot water temperatures have been found to strip the natural oils from your complexion, leading to skin dryness [2]. It can also inflame the skin, causing redness, irritation, and that uncomfortable 'tight' feeling — similar to a sunburn.

Similarly, both air conditioning and heating systems can dry out the air in your environment. This can pull the moisture from your skin, leaving you with a dull, dry complexion [3].

So, to avoid overly dry skin this winter, consider grabbing your blanket instead. You might also consider investing in a humidifier to add some extra moisture to the air, as this can slightly improve skin hydration.

Cold weather

Yes, it's not just the heat that can cause dry skin — the cold is a common culprit, too! One of the reasons dehydrated skin is so common in winter is that the humidity levels tend to be quite low [4].

Couple this with harsh winter winds and the dry, indoor heat, and winter really is the perfect recipe for chapped, irritated skin. To prevent this, consider limiting prolonged exposure to the elements, and swapping to a thicker moisturiser with soothing properties.

Your skincare routine

When it comes to treating dryness, not all skincare products are created equal! Many include harsh ingredients that strip the skin of its natural oils, such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) [5]. These strip the skin of its natural oils and leave it feeling drier.

These harsh, drying ingredients are commonly found in cleansers and soaps — especially the cheaper kind you find at the supermarket. However, they can also be found in moisturisers, treatment masks, and even makeup products. So, make sure to check the ingredient list for any of these irritating nasties.

It's also possible that some of the dryness you're experiencing is actually a build-up of dead skin cells (especially if it's accompanied by flakiness). Make sure to invest in a good quality exfoliator (free from any harsh, drying ingredients), like our Salicylic Acid Foaming Wash, and use it 1-2 days a week to remove the build-up from the outer layer of the skin!

Lack of hydration

You've likely heard that the skin is the largest organ in the body — and, water is essential for the functioning of all of your organs.

So, it makes sense that if you're not drinking enough of the good stuff, it can be reflected in your skin health. But, can a lack of hydration cause dry skin? The answer? It's complicated.

Is dry skin the same as dehydrated skin?

The terms 'dry skin' and 'dehydrated' skin are often used interchangeably. But while they present similarly, they're actually quite different.

Dry skin is caused by a lack of oil, while dehydrated skin occurs due to a lack of water [6].

If you have a dry skin type, you probably have consistently dry skin (especially in winter). Your skin will feel dry all over, including your hands and scalp. This usually happens because the skin's natural moisture barrier is normally compromised. Lipid-rich products (aka oils) such as shea butter, plant oils, and ceramides are required to supplement the skin barrier [7].

As the name suggests, dehydrated skin needs more moisture or water. Typically, this skin issue comes and goes, and it's usually caused by environmental factors or using irritating products. Often, dehydrated skin tries to overcompensate by creating too much oil, which can lead to breakouts, congestion, and oilier skin.

What makes things more complicated is that it's possible to have both dry and dehydrated skin at the same time!

A good way to test whether your skin is dry or dehydrated is with the 'pinch test' [8]. Use your fingers to pinch a small amount of skin on your cheek, abdomen, chest, or back of your hand. If the skin doesn't bounce back within a second, it's likely that you're actually dehydrated.

Why your skin may feel dry even after moisturising

If you've been wondering, "Why is my skin so dry even when I moisturise?"... it might actually be happening due to too much moisturiser.

If you over-moisturise your skin, it signals to your skin that it's already getting adequate moisture. This can slow down your skin's natural oil production, leaving your skin even dryer. In other words, your skin gets lazy and complacent and stops producing lipids.

So, if you find that your skin doesn't properly absorb moisturiser, it could be a sign that your skin is on the dry side. This could mean that your skin is actually crying out for oil, not water! However, it could also just mean you're using the wrong moisturiser (or, the wrong amount), and it's too heavy for your skin.

If you use active or prescription skincare products like retinol, this could also be the cause of your dry skin. While retinoids are extremely effective for anti-ageing [9], they're not a one-size-fits-all solution. If you already have dry skin, using these products can further break down the skin's natural barrier and leave you with an inflamed, flaky texture.

It's important to use products formulated for your specific skin concerns, so you can avoid these unpleasant side effects.

How to combat dry skin

Ready to say goodbye to dull, dry skin — once and for all? If you've ruled out environmental stressors and thrown out your harsh cleanser, your next step should be seeing a dermatologist. They will be able to ensure you don't have any underlying skin conditions and help you create a skincare routine to get your skin back on track.

Think seeming a derm is too inaccessible or expensive? Software makes it easy. Simply complete our online consult and one of our health practitioners will create a customised formula just for you.

Generally speaking, though, an effective skincare routine for dry skin will look something like this:

Repair the skin

To start adding hydration back into the skin, repairing the skin barrier is crucial. You'll want to go for a moisturiser or treatment mask that is free from sulphates, and packed with fatty acids that plump up the skin.

Our Ceramide Moisturiser Repair Balm is about as rich and hydrating as it gets. Containing nourishing ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and squalane, it delivers a serious dose of moisture to the skin. Specifically formulated to target dry skin, it provides a soothing effect while protecting and replenishing the skin barrier.

Hydrate the skin

If your skin is on the dry side, oils are your friend! Remember, we want to encourage your skin to create more moisture, not over-clog it with water-based products. That's where a lightweight, fast-absorbing oil will be the perfect addition to your skincare routine.

The Retinol Complex Face Oil is an absolute powerhouse for treating dry skin. It contains vitamin A, which helps to stimulate skin cell turnover and collagen production.

Derived from coconut, fruit, and seed oils, it also helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and dark spots. Talk about an all-rounder! It's also a great choice for people with sensitive skin who want to add retinol to their skincare routine without the irritating or drying effect.

Another excellent option is our Hydration Booster, a bundle of 3 nourishing products that will keep your skin hydrated all day and night: Hydrogel Face Masks to rejuvenate, the Hyaluronic Complex Serum to hydrate and the Ceramide Repair Balm to moisturise.

Treat the skin

Once you've got the basics taken care of, you can consider adding a serum into the mix. These are active products that include a potent mix of ingredients for targeting specific skincare concerns. Again, you'll want to opt for a serum without sulphates, to ensure it doesn't strip the skin of its natural oils.

The Vitamin C + Ferulic Acid Serum delivers a powerful dose of antioxidants while still being gentle on the skin. It's one of the most powerful vitamin C serums on the market, rapidly fighting dull skin and discolouration while protecting it from free radicals. Combined with ferulic acid, it treats the skin while building collagen and improving elasticity.

Relieve dry skin with a targeted skincare plan

At the end of the day, your skin is just as unique as you are. So, a one-size-fits-all solution just won't do. Whether dry skin is the bane of your existence, or you're looking to treat acne or pigmentation, a custom treatment plan will get you there faster without the headaches. Get yours with Software.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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