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Dry skin remedies for darker skin tones

Your dry skin can be uncomfortable, frustrating — maybe even embarrassing. In darker skin tones, the flaking, discoloration, and rough texture are more noticeable than in lighter skin tones.

Chesahna Kindred, MD, MBA, FAAD

On melanin-rich skin, dry skin is often visible. You can reduce the whitish or grayish-white appearance of dry skin by using a moisturizer with ceramides, which helps to seal in moisture.

─ Chesahna Kindred, MD, MBA, FAAD

Since dry skin is more noticeable in people with darker skin tones, you’re likely highly motivated to treat the dryness.

The good news is that many people can effectively treat their dry skin at home. Here’s what board-certified dermatologists recommend: 

Dermatologists’ top 7 tips for relieving dry skin

  1. Take short (5 or 10 minutes) baths and showers in warm water. Hot water and spending too much time bathing tends to worsen dry skin.

  2. After getting out of a bath or shower, gently pat (don’t scrub) your skin with a towel but leave some water on your skin so that it feels damp. You’ll use moisturizer to seal in this water.

  3. Slather on a mild, fragrance-free moisturizer immediately after toweling off. Creams and ointments tend to be more effective than lotions.

  4. Use gentle, fragrance-free skin care products. Dry skin is easily irritated, so deodorant soaps and products that contain alcohol or fragrance can irritate your dry, sensitive skin.

  5. Apply a fragrance-free hand cream after you wash your hands. Do this every time.

  6. Relieve extremely dry skin by applying a cream or ointment throughout the day. This helps to keep your skin hydrated.

  7. Wear loose-fitting clothes made of a breathable fabric like cotton. Tight-fitting clothes like leggings and rough fabrics like wool can irritate your dry skin.

By following these tips, you should see some improvement within two weeks.

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Which moisturizer works best on very dry skin?

Shani Francis, MD, MBA, FAAD

If you have very dry skin, use an ointment like petroleum jelly or a thick cream. Butters and oils tend to liquefy on the skin, so they’re less effective as moisturizers.

─ Shani Francis, MD, MBA, FAAD

Caroline Robinson, MD, FAAD

Petroleum jelly works by trapping existing moisture on your skin. That’s why I always recommend it when skin is very dry. Apply a layer of petroleum jelly to skin that is damp from bathing or on top of a lotion or cream.

─ Caroline Robinson, MD, FAAD

When to see a dermatologist about dry skin

If you still have dry skin after giving these top tips time to work, it’s best to see a board-certified dermatologist. Sometimes getting relief requires a prescription-strength ointment or a bit of individualized insight from the skin expert.

If you have persistently dry skin and nothing brings relief, it’s also possible that you have an undiagnosed skin condition like eczema, ichthyosis, or psoriasis. All cause excessively dry skin.

Some people who have darker skin tones live for years with an undiagnosed skin condition. They often mistakenly believe their skin is just too dry for moisturizer to work.

A board-certified dermatologist can tell you what’s going on with your skin and develop a treatment plan that can relieve the driest of skin.

To find a dermatologist who specializes in treating darker skin tones, go to Find a Dermatologist. Then click on “Filters,” and select “Any Practice Focus.” When the drop-down menu appears, select “Skin of Color.”

Courtesy of board-certified dermatologists Chesahna Kindred, MD, MBA, FAAD; Shani Francis, MD, MBA, FAAD; and Caroline Robinson, MD, FAAD.

Edited by:
Paula Ludmann, MS

Reviewed by:
Chesahna Kindred, MD, MBA, FAAD
Shani Francis, MD, MBA, FAAD
Sandy Marchese Johnson, MD, FAAD
Bassel Hamdy Mahmoud, MD, PhD, FAAD
Caroline Robinson, MD, FAAD
Sanna Ronkainen, MD, FAAD

Last updated: 11/4/22