No matter how much body lotion you’re slathering on post-shower, there always seems to be one particular patch of dryness that feels impossible to shake. Dry elbows are the gift that keeps on giving—that is, if that “gift” is a non-returnable ugly sweater that your aunt Eve expects you to wear to every family dinner.
The good news? There are ways to deal with dry elbows that ensure that unlike the puke green, polka dot sweater you won’t be stuck with them forever. Read on for everything you need to know.
What causes dry elbows?
We all know that our skin is our largest organ, but a far less repeated fact is that it’s not all the same from head to toe. “There is a considerable variation in the baseline thickness of skin’s dead cell layer from region to region,” says board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare Loretta Ciraldo. “Our elbows have the thickest layer of dead cells, called stratum corneum, and there’s a buildup of dead cells that comes with chronic rubbing.” So, for example, if you’re sitting with your elbows on a desk all day long, you’re more likely to wind up with dry patches on them.
In addition to the skin on our elbows being ultra thick, “It also has less oils glands for lubrication so it ends up thickest and rough,” says board-certified dermatologist Julie Russak, MD.
How to treat dry elbows
Aside from trying not to lean on them so much, you can prevent and treat dryness on your elbows with the same method you’d use on your face: Gentle exfoliation and a whole lot of moisturizer. “Exfoliants, like glycolic acid or another AHA, or a fruit enzyme, like papaya or pineapple, are very helpful to lessen existing dead cell buildup,” says Dr. Ciraldo.
In the shower, you can use an enzyme scrub—ideally something made with pineapple or papaya—to help get rid of dead skin cells. “Massage it into your elbows and leave it on for several minutes before washing it off so that the enzymes can work to dislodge the dead cells at the surface,” says Dr. Ciraldo. Just be sure to stay away from any harsh, physical exfoliants, which will wind up making you feel even drier.
Retinol—which is the gold standard for treating pretty much all skin problems—can also be helpful in dealing with dry elbows. It stimulates cell turnover, which will help bring healthy new cells to the surface to replace the old dead ones. Dr. Russak also recommends products containing Co-Q10, which works to regenerate collagen in order to restore elasticity to the skin on your elbows.
As far as moisturizing goes, look for a thicker formula that packs the one-two ingredient punch of urea and ceramides. “You want a gentle exfoliant to remove dead skin build-up but also moisturize at the same time,” says Dr. Russak. “Urea gently dissolves dead, dry cells but is also very hydrating, and ceramides help to rebuild the natural protective barrier of the skin.” Dr. Ciraldo is also a fan of lactic acid-infused moisturizers, because the gentle exfoliant will slough off dead skin cells while the moisturizing ingredients will help to rehydrate them.
A few other things you can do? “Apply something like coconut oil before bedtime, and sleep with a large bandage over your elbows to enhance the penetration of this healthy oil into the skin,” says Dr. Ciraldo. “Another thing that can be helpful is to wear longer sleeves so your elbows aren’t rubbing up against hard surfaces that promote rougher elbows.”
The best products for treating dry elbows
Shop now: Raya Enzyme Hydrating Body Scrub, $13
Thanks to a three-step formulation made from moisturizing seaweed moisturizes, exfoliating fruit enzymes, and nourishing jojoba beads, this is the perfect gentle scrub for using on your elbows and beyond.
Shop now: Shea Moisture Papaya & Vitamin C Revive & Brighten Body Wash, $11
Think of this as a breakfast smoothie disguised as a beauty product. The papaya in this product works to exfoliate skin while also adding a burst of vitamin C protection.
Shop now: Eucerin Advanced Repair Cream, $12
With ceramides and urea, this lotion will make dry elbow skin a thing of the past. Urea acts as a kerolytic (meaning it can get rid of thick, dry skin cell buildup) as well as a moisturizing humectant, and ceramides will keep your skin barrier functioning optimally.
Shop now: REN Clean Skincare AHA Smart Renewal Body Serum, $43
Lactic acid is the star ingredient of this lighter-than-air lotion (which many of our editors would choose as their “desert island” beauty product), which gently exfoliates while restoring moisture into the skin. Your pores will slurp it right up, which means it won’t leave you goopy or greasy no matter how much you slather all over yourself.
Shop now: La-Roche Posay Iso-Urea, $34
Soften skin with a combination of urea and La Roche Posay’s signature thermal water, which will ensure there isn’t a dead skin cell in sight on your elbows—or anywhere else on your body.
Shop now: The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA, $8
Spot treat your elbow dryness with this lotion, which is technically meant for your face but works urea-induced wonders all over your body (while also hydrating your skin with ceramides and phospholipids). And the best part? It’s only $8.
Shop now: True Botanicals Resurfacing Body Mask, $48
Dr. Ciraldo is a fan of this mask, which is formulated with lactic acid and green tea that will exfoliate and soothe skin at the same time. Massage onto dry skin, leave for 5 to 15 minutes, and rinse off in the shower, then follow up with your favorite moisturizer or body oil.
Dealing with dry skin on your face, too? Here’s everything you need to know about how to handle it, straight from a dermatologist: