Rough or flaky patches on the neck, itchy legs, elbows that could double as sandpaper—however uncomfortable skin might feel, the best body lotion for dry skin can come to the rescue. And it couldn’t be better timing, seeing as the colder months are prime time for skin dryness from head to toe. If you’re looking for something to blame, says New York City dermatologist David Kim, M.D., “our skin barrier is compromised in the wintertime.”
That compromised skin barrier can inadvertently trap you into a cycle of dryness, allowing what moisture does come in to slip out at faster rate (via a process called trans-epidermal water loss) and, as a result, remaining compromised. That’s the bad news. The good news? A dedicated formula can put your skin back on track. “Body lotions are essential to help replenish moisture, keep the skin feeling soft and smooth, and support the skin barrier, working to keep moisture in and external irritants out,” says Marisa Garshick, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City.
However, not all are created equal. The best body lotion for dry skin will deliver a strategic combo of ingredients to best moisturize skin—and, even better, keep it that way. “When it comes to body lotions, it’s important to look for products containing different types of moisturizers,” says Dr. Garshick. “These include humectants, such as glycerin or hyaluronic acid, which work to draw moisture in; emollients to help soften and smooth the skin, such as squalane, jojoba oil, and colloidal oatmeal; and occlusives, such as petrolatum and shea butter.”
Since the integrity of skin barrier is at the heart of dryness—basically, if the skin barrier isn’t happy, then no one is happy—ingredients designed for barrier repair, such as ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol, can also go a long way. In doing so, they can even help address skin barrier-related skin conditions, such as eczema.
Skin-care ingredients typically found in your average face moisturizer have also been popping up in body lotions; for instance, Dr. Garshick recommends formulas with retinol to address signs of aging, or niacinamide for dealing with discoloration. And, as in formulas designed for your face, some ingredients can make an appearance to address particular skin concerns. “Exfoliating acids, like glycolic or lactic acid, may help to eliminate dead skin to leave the skin feeling soft and smooth,” says Dr. Garshick. “Salicylic acid is also an exfoliating acid as well as a keratolytic, so it can be helpful for areas of thick, dead skin build-up, such as elbows and knees.” (Psst: That’s what makes salicylic acid a winner for those with keratosis pilaris.)
“Many people wait until the skin starts to feel dry to apply lotion, but it’s actually best to apply it before the dryness begins,” says Dr. Garshick. Also, aim to moisturize with a body lotion as soon as you towel off. “Apply it right out of the shower when your skin is still slightly wet to lock in all the moisture,” Dr. Kim says. Pro tip: Slather it everywhere—the backs of your legs and your upper arms don’t get a free pass from winter’s impact, so it’s worth making sure that, as with sunscreen, you don’t miss a spot.
Most importantly, just stick with it. “It’s all about finding the product you like and actually using it consistently,” says Dr. Kim. With that, consider these 19 formulas that will keep your skin soft and healthy straight through summer.