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Dermatologist's Complete Guide to Dry Skin Care

I'm seeing a lot of dry skin in my dermatology practice right now.  It's the the middle of winter so I expect it.  Dry skin can happen any time of year, but winter is definitely peak season. There are some very simple skin care tricks to keep your skin soft and symptom free all the time, and it's especially important that you use them in the winter. The winter climate and indoor conditions pull water from your skin so you have to keep putting it back and then trapping it; you can't just treat your skin the same way you do in the warm summer months and expect it not to be dry and itchy. Knowing what skin care products to use, how to use them and how often will mean the difference between soft, comfortable skin or painful, itchy, dry and scaly skin. The overriding concept is that you have to retain skin moisture in the outer layers of your skin and you do this with your skin care. Contrary to popular myth, you don't hydrate your skin by drinking water.  The water that you drink doesn't get to those dry outer skin layers because your skin functions as a fantastic barrier keeping your inner and outer worlds separate. DermDoc said it well on his Dermatology Blog, "Drinking lots of water no more moisturizes your skin than taking a bath quenches your thirst."  Only in the extreme when you're massively dehydrated will your skin be limp and flaccid.  The common, scaly dryness of most dry skin problems won't go away by drinking ten 8 oz glasses of water a day, you need the right skin care regimen to fix the problem. Hydrating skin care involves bathing and moisturizing in such a way that you add water to the outer skin layers and then trap it.  Water is added by bathing and water is trapped with oils and water binding product ingredients. The key skin care points to treat dry skin: 1.  Take a shower or bath in warm water, not hot, and ideally for 5 or more minutes to load the skin with water.

Bathe with only mild soaps and warm water.  You don't want to completely remove all your natural skin oils and hot water and strong soaps will do that.  My favorite bath soaps are naturally made soaps or glycerin soaps.  Whole Food's 365 brand glycerin bar is a deal at about $2.  Other options include the naturally made boutique soaps that have not had their natural glycerin removed. (The process of making soap is to add oil/fat and lye which yields soap and glycerin.  The glycerin is removed from most commercial soaps and sold for other purposes!)  I don't recommend regular, harsh soaps with added oils or 'cold creams' because there isn't enough oil to compensate for the stripping action of the harsh soap.

Likewise, use warm, not hot, water to bathe.  Washing your skin is just like doing the dishes in that hot water is more effective at removing oil and you don't want to remove all your natural skin oils during bathing.

2.  Apply your moisturizer within 3 minutes after toweling dry after your bath/shower.

Your moisturizer should be thick and rich with lots of oil.  You don't need to put so much on that you feel greasy, but cover your entire skin.  Added water binding ingredients to look for include alpha hydroxy acids (like Glytone Body Lotion or AmLactin), glycerin, lanolin (which comes from wool), urea,and hyaluronic acid.

There are other great skin care tricks for having soft, healthy skin year round. For your hands:

Dermatologist's Tips For Dry, Chapped, Painful Hand Skin

Cracked, Dry, Brittle and Splitting Fingernails; Dermatologist's Tips

Pandemic Of Dry Hands; hand sanitizers, the swine flue and tips to save your hands

For your body:

Essential Winter Skin Care; 2 simple tricks to healthy winter skin

For your feet:

Dermatologist's 3 Simple Steps For Sandal-Ready Feet By Spring

For your lips:

Chapped Lips; the Remedy Depends On The Cause

Tricks for Retin A use in the winter:

How To Treat Dry Skin Caused From Retin A Use In The Winter

Photo: Thanks and gratitude to Jared