Angelina Jolie has the pout. Kerry Washington has the sky-high cheekbones. I…have dry, flaky skin. For as long as I can remember, dull, dry skin has always been a part of "my brand." I can whip up a flawless, glowing facebeat using a mix of my favorite luminous foundations (hi, Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation) and powder highlighters without having to pack on the setting powder. But, when it’s time to remove my makeup at the end of the day, I’m reminded of biggest skincare woe: thirsty skin.
In desperate need of some hydration, I booked a facial at Glo Spa in New York’s Financial District to get the brand’s signature Dermalinfusion facial, which uses skin-specific serums to infuse in the skin all while combining exfoliation and extraction to hydrate and improve the skin's appearance and texture. I was in for a complete surprise when the esthetician and founder of Glo Spa, Sai Demirovic, uttered words that cut me deep: "You don’t actually have dry skin." What?! I’ve been living a lie this entire time.
A flurry of questions followed this startling revelation. "Does your skin sometimes feel really dry and tight after you cleanse your face?" she asked. I nodded yes. "If your cleanser is drying you out, you're starting with a pH that's already off-balance, so your skin is going to try to start compensating for that by either producing more oils or becoming too dry. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have dry skin, you might just be using the wrong cleanser," Demirovic said. I can’t be the only one out there who has misdiagnosed themselves with dry skin, so I asked her to explain exactly what dry skin is, what causes it, and how to treat it, ahead.
How can you tell if you have dry skin?
"Dry skin can look a lot of different ways. Normally, there can be lots of redness, flaking, and irritation on the skin. The best way to tell if you have dry skin is when washing your face—if your skin feels tight after a cleanse, it's a dead giveaway you have dry skin. Even if you get really oily an hour later, it's just your body’s oils trying to compensate for the lack of hydration."
What causes dry skin?
“You could be over-exfoliating. Usually twice a week is more than enough since our body also naturally knows what to do, and your diet also plays a big role—gut health is just as important as skincare. Probiotics and minerals like Selenium have been researched and proven to help with eczema and acne. This might be something you want to take daily to help you from the inside out.
Additionally, you could just be lacking hydration. You might be using lotions that are really sitting on top of the skin and not actually penetrating below the surface. I feel like serums are really important to use in your routine. So, using a hyaluronic acid as your base serum will kind of help keep you from drying out and not clog your pores."
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What types of ingredients/products should you absolutely stay away from?
“Essential oils and fragrances! These are ingredients that can cause redness, inflammation and breakouts. They can be really irritating and are one of the things you should def check for when choosing a skincare product. People would also say alcohol is bad for dry skin, but if it’s far enough down in the ingredient list, it's actually a good thing as it allows for better product absorption.
Glycolic acid is something you definitely want to steer away from, too. That's something you maybe want to use once a month—just a very light amount of it, as it is a gentle exfoliator, just to get rid of some discoloration. But it's not something that should be used in a nightly serum or daily serum.”
What ingredients/products would dry skin benefit from?
"Milk cleansers are really nice and gentle, especially for the winter time. I would recommend IS Clinical's Cleansing Complex because it instantly balances your skin's pH, so you're already going to start your day with pretty much a nice foundation to use your products on. It's good to change up your cleansers because face washes can be almost seasonal. It's not so much what's in the product, it's more about being more cautious when using it, and only using a little bit at a time to see what your skin can handle."
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When ever I see any flaky skin, I immediately reach for an exfoliating cleanser or mask. What are your thoughts on exfoliation?
"Exfoliation needs to be done very thoughtfully. If you have a big skin concern—like flakes or dullness—[exfoliate] maybe twice a week. The skin is naturally exfoliating itself, so whenever you're exfoliating, you're kind of just helping your skin along with its own natural process. You don't need to do it too often because you can wind up over-drying your skin. And again, over-exfoliating can lead to discoloration, red spots, brown spots, dry patches all over the face. Exfoliating also creates a pretty toxic environment on the surface of your skin that can lead to a bad breakout if you're acne-prone. It's a trigger."
Is there a skincare step we should skip?
"If you have dry skin, you can totally skip your toner, because that will definitely dry you out even more. Toners sometimes have glycolic acid, or just alcohol in it in general. Those are just ingredients that are just going to dry the surface of your skin even more."
What do you do when you have dry and sensitive skin?
"Drink your water! Water helps filter out everything in your gut, and everything that happens on the surface of your skin starts in your gut. If you don't have a filtered gut, it means you don't have a clean gut. If you're not drinking the proper amount of water, you're skin isn't healing properly. Drinking water and taking vitamins can make a big difference on the surface of your skin.
Also, you want a moisturizing lotion with a hyaluronic acid in it, or one that's lightweight—anything that won't be too heavy on your skin and won't clog your pores. Make sure it's geared for your sensitivity and only use small amounts. You start with small amounts of lotion because people with dry skin think it's okay to over-moisturize, which ends up clogging your skin even more. Your skin wants to breathe."
What is the best way to hydrate dry skin?
“Drink water! Try adding some lemon to help with absorption. Always start skincare with a damp face and make sure you’re using a good face wash, too. One I enjoy is Shasta AHA Refining Acid Wash by Holifrog. It’s active but it degrades quickly when water touches the skin and creates a surface that’s ready for absorption of skincare. A hydrating serum with hyaluronic acid (and maybe some vitamin e) and then a moisturizer to top it off and seal in all that moisture is helpful as well.”
Nerisha Penrose Assistant Editor Nerisha is the assistant editor at ELLE.com, covering all things beauty and fashion.