Should You Use a Humidifier to Hydrate Dry Skin?
No matter the season, dry skin is a constant. Most commonly associated with the bitter cold of winter, dry, flaky skin is a year-round issue. Slathering yourself with the right creams and oils can help, but that thin layer of lotion will only get you so far when dry air is constantly pulling water from your skin.
It's not just the dry air outside you need to worry about, but also the climate inside your home (or office). "Air conditioning and heating can have a drying effect on skin because they work by removing a large amount of moisture from the air," says Corey L. Hartman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology. He adds that you might not be able to control the weather, but you can control the environment of your home.
The solution? Good ol' humidifiers.
How a humidifier can help your dry skin
Humidifiers help restore the humidity levels in the air, providing skin with the moisture it needs, even in the driest of climates. "When your skin's protection barrier is damaged (read: dry), it creates small cracks in the skin, causing moisture to escape," says Marina Peredo, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "Running a humidifier pulls moisture back into the air to improve dry, itchy skin and help it retain that hydration." Cracked lips, limp hair, itchy skin, and bad allergies are all conditions that can improve with the use of a humidifier.
But note: Humidifiers won't—and shouldn't!—replace your skincare routine. Humidifiers take the benefits of good skincare one step further: "Using creams and moisturizers daily is important to draw moisture back into the skin. Like a moisturizer with hyaluronic acid, humidifiers simply help lock in moisture," says Dr. Peredo.
How to choose the best humidifier
From warm to cool mist to steam vaporizers to ultrasonic machines, there are many options on the market. Your humidifier of choice largely depends on room size (personal or travel-sized humidifiers typically only reach 25 to 100 square feet) and personal preference. For example, mini ones, like Hey Dewy ($39; revolve.com), can fit on your desk, while silent ones, like Noma ($89; noma.com), probably won't mess with your sleep schedule. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, cool mist humidifiers are the safest option. Warm mist humidifiers run hot and can cause burns if you get too close, making them potentially dangerous for children or pets.
Are there any concerns associated with humidifiers?
Humidifiers are generally safe for any and all skin types to use. However, it is important that you take the time to clean and maintain your appliance. "If humidifiers are not properly and regularly cleaned, they can promote overgrowth of bacteria, fungi, yeast, mold and other organisms that can cause illness and infection, worsening eczema, psoriasis and even acne," says Dr. Hartman.
Similarly, avoid running your humidifier for too long. When the air is too damp, mold and mildew can also grow, which can trigger breathing problems. Keep an eye on the room's humidity level with a hygrometer ($11; target.com) and make sure it doesn't exceed 50 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
How to use use a humidifier correctly
To keep your humidifier at its best, experts recommend filling it with distilled water. If you opt for water from your tap, make sure to clean the tank once a week to disinfect and remove mineral buildup (a natural byproduct of tap water). "The cleansing method doesn't have to be laborious. Either soap and water or vinegar are adequate for proper cleansing," says Dr. Hartman.
Also, don't feel the need to hold your face directly above the appliance. Dr. Hartman suggests placing a humidifier at least three feet away. "The humidifier should be aimed to release moisture into the air so that the benefit is felt by the skin all over the body," he says. Dr. Peredo also recommends placing the humidifier in a room you spend a lot of time in (like the bedroom). "The smaller the room, the more benefits you'll get from using it. The humidifier can help retain moisture to your entire body," he says.