Can skin become dependent on moisturizers?

Originally Published: November 26, 2010 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: September 4, 2013
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Dear Alice,

Is it possible to become dependent on moisturizers?

I suffer from dry skin and each Winter go through about half a gallon of moisturizer all over my body by Spring time. It's starting to feel like my skin is getting dependent on the moisturizers, meaning that it always feels like I need them, even if it is a humid season. It's like the skin gave up on circulating its own moisture because it is expecting it from moisturizing cream. Is this just my imagination? Or should I back off on the moisturization?

—Dried Up

Dear Dried Up,

Unfortunately, there are no "wet" or "dry" answers to your question.  Did you know that a tendency to develop dry skin can actually be inherited? Dry skin affects about 40 percent of the population. Most likely, your skin has not become dependent on moisturizers, but it may be that the moisturizer you are using is not very effective. There may also be other causes of your dry skin, including the indoor heating during the winter months

Here are some tips for maximizing your moisturizing potential:

  • Don't "over-bathe." Hanging out in water for much longer than 10 minutes can actually work against the skin's hydration. Also, hot water is more drying to the skin than warm water.
  • Avoid using deodorant soaps or very perfumey soaps. These are harsh on the skin and can definitely dry things out. Instead, use a mild soap, ideally one that's fragrance free or a moisturizing cleanser.
  • Apply moisturizer right after getting out of the shower, while still damp. Moisturizers work largely by trapping moisture in, rather than adding more, so applying it before toweling off can provide more benefit.
  • When toweling off, pat the skin gently, rather than rubbing it.
  • All moisturizers are not created equal. The order of most-moisturizing to least-moisturizing is as follows: oils, ointments, creams, lotions. That's right; lotions may not be all that they're "cracked up" to be. When choosing a moisturizer, again look for one that is low on the fragrance or one that is hypoallergenic. Petroleum jelly (aka Vaseline®) is one of the best. Yes, it's gooey but if applied at night time before bed, it can be very effective in preventing dry skin and it won't clog pores.
  • The sun can contribute to dry skin. Have you noticed more dryness in areas with more exposure to the sun? Using sunscreen can help prevent dry skin, as well

Some experimentation may be necessary in finding the right formula (i.e. soap, shower duration, moisturizer) that works best. If after trying lots of things, there is still no improvement, you may want to consult a dermatologist. A specialist may be able to help you determine if something more serious is going on such as eczema, dermatitis, or psoriasis, all of which can benefit from a prescription.

Have fun figuring out what works best for you. Here's to healthy and hydrated skin!

Alice