I’ve had eczema since I was a baby and get especially bad flare-ups on my hands. Aside from the eczema, my skin is generally dry. About 85% of the time, I’ve got some dry spot happening somewhere on my body. Currently, I’m battling a dry patch on my face and a slight eczema flare-up on my palms. In fact, ever since I moved back to Los Angeles after a 12-year stint in New York City, my face has been continuously dry. It’s a conundrum I just can’t figure out.
I’ve tried so many lotions, creams, ointments, masks, etc., throughout the years, so I like to think I’m pretty well-versed in what works for me and what doesn’t. And for the times when I don’t turn to my prescription steroid creams and ointments for my eczema, I have a few over-the-counter favorites. But for more information about using ointments to heal dry skin, I turned to dermatologist Heather Rogers, MD, founder and CEO of Doctor Rogers Restore and co-founder of Modern Dermatology in Seattle, for some tips.
“When skin is dry, the barrier is not intact, making the skin less able to keep chemicals out and hydration/water in,” Rogers explains. “For your skin to heal, the water level must be maintained. This is why greasy ointments are so helpful. They provide a protective layer over the healing skin to keep the water in your skin from evaporating.”
When it comes to choosing an ointment, Rogers says you should look for simple, minimal ingredients. “Since ointments are made to protect and heal severely dry and damaged skin, you want it to be free of common causes of irritation,” she says. “When your skin is damaged, it will absorb more of the chemicals from the products you apply, thus increasing the risk of allergy or irritation. My advice is to keep your ointments simple, especially when it comes to ingredients. Look out for ointments with the shortest, purest ingredient lists and avoid common allergens.”
While applying the ointment straight up is the best way to treat dry skin, Rogers says that you can also mix the ointment into your moisturizer, which helps if you are washing your hands a lot and are experiencing dryness. She adds that it will increase the moisturizer’s hydrating power while making the ointment less sticky: “After I wash my hands, I apply a mixture of 50% Vanicream and 50% Doctor Rogers Restore Healing Balm on my hands, and then I use a tissue to blot my fingertips so I can use them as the product sinks in.”
So now that we have the basics down, it’s time to find an ointment that works for you. Take a look at our favorites below (and some salves, too).