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).
Rogers's balm is 100% plant-based and can treat a variety of skin problems, like eczema symptoms, dryness, chapped lips, and burns. "I often recommend people apply my Healing Balm to their areas of concern before bed and then sleep in gloves, socks, or tight-fitting clothes to keep the ointment in place," she says. "After lasering, I have patients apply my balm and then a face mask to expedite the healing process."
A few years ago, my dermatologist gave me a bunch of samples of these tubes and told me to apply it throughout the day in between using my prescription ointments. I put them in practically every bag I own, and I still buy them in bulk. It really helps keep my hands moisturized, especially after washing them.
I'm a big fan of Vanicream's moisturizer because it doesn't contain any ingredients that irritate my sensitive skin. And I have the same feelings toward the brand's ointment. It's helpful for skin conditions or concerns like dryness, itchiness, psoriasis, and eczema.
The all-purpose ointment also has colloidal oatmeal for some sweet relief. It's paraben-, phthalate-, sulfate-, and mineral oil–free. Use it on your lips cheeks, body, hands, and feet to treat rashes, dry spots, and irritation.
I was introduced to Lucas' Papaw by a makeup artist on a shoot a few years ago, and it's become a staple in my makeup bag (and in my handbag, car, office desk…). I use it to moisturize dry, cracked lips and on any dry spots like my elbows. And for those who don't know, papaw equals papaya.
Apply this balm to your face at night, and it will work its magic while you sleep. It will help with dryness, dullness, and redness. The formula includes oils (olive, almond, borage, linseed) to leave your skin hydrated.
If you're experiencing inflammation, this ointment might be the solution for you. Key ingredients include antioxidants, vitamin E, essential oils, castor oil, and olive oil. You can also use it to treat sunburns and razor burn.
The honey in this salve provides moisture and antioxidants to your skin. It's safe to apply just about anywhere on your body, from your lips to cuticles to legs to elbows. You can even use it as a brow gel or to keep your flyways under control.
Dry, cracked skin can feel so painful. This salve will help heal and moisturize it. It contains medicated soap, lanolin, and Vaseline, along with plant-based ingredients like eucalyptus, lavender, and rosemary.
I've used this balm for my eczema before, and it's one of my picks because it really stops my skin from feeling so itchy. You can apply it on your face or body, wherever you're experiencing dryness or an eczema flare-up.
Avène's balm is formulated for eczema, but it also works to treat redness, psoriasis, irritated skin, and dryness. Thermal spring water is another ingredient in the balm that is supposed to have soothing and calming properties.
Ingredients in this salve include colloidal oatmeal, hemp seed oil, and avocado oil, which all work to calm, relieve, and hydrate skin. It's okay to use it all over your body and even to smooth your eyebrows and hair.
If it's good enough for the cows, I guess it's good for us. Bag Balm has been used by farmers to keep their cows' udders from getting chapped. This one's a favorite in our office. Our editors use it for dry and chapped lips, but you can use it on your hands and feet and for minor cuts and burns.