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Top Tips from a Dermatologist for Treating Dry Skin

Our dermatologists give their tips on how to deal with dry and itchy skin in the wintertime.

Dry skin can occur during any season, but it’s in the winter, when there’s no humidity in the air, that it becomes uncomfortable and itchy. “Cold and dry winter conditions typically dehydrate skin by drawing moisture out of the superficial layers and into the air, sometimes causing skin to dry and crack,” explains Dr. Rachel Nazarian from Schweiger Dermatology Group on the Upper West Side and Murray Hill.

“Basically, the air has less moisture during the winter, so it steals more moisture from our skin to compensate.” Also, forced heating inside can steal even more moisture from the air, leaving you with skin that’s itchy, dry and flaky. How to treat dry skin at home takes a little knowledge. Here, our top ways to fix dry skin:

  1. Add Humidity

    When the humidity in the air decreases, it’s time to invest in a humidifier. Regular use of a humidifier will add necessary moisture back into the air and into your skin. Find out about the best humidifiers and which one fits your lifestyle.

  2. Cut Down on Cleansing

    During the wintertime, you can get away with washing your face only once a day–in the evening. In the morning, just rinse your face with a splash of cold water. For a gentler approach to cleansing, try swapping your lathering cleanser for a creamy cleanser. As for your body, steer clear of any harsh bar soaps in the shower that are laden with detergents and fragrance, which can irritate the skin. Instead, choose a mild, gentle soap, such as the white Dove Beauty Bar, which is made with a healthy dose of moisturizing cream.

  3. Warm, Not Hot

    Always keep showers and baths lukewarm—as opposed to hot—in the winter. “Hot water strips natural oils and hydrators from skin, which makes it easier for skin to lose water into the atmosphere,” says Dr. Nazarian. Also, close the door when you’re taking a bath or shower to trap the steam in the bathroom so your skin can soak it in.

  4. Apply Moisturizer When Skin is Damp

    Don’t wait until skin is dry to apply moisturizer. “Product absorption through skin is maximized when skin is slightly damp,” explains Dr. Nazarian. The best time to apply moisturizers like creams or lotions is immediately following a shower, when you gently towel off excess water. But the window is short, warns Dr. Nazarian. It’s best to apply moisturizers and products within 10 minutes of showering in order to trap water molecules onto the skin.

  5. Read Skincare Ingredients

    Instead of just buying a lotion or cream claiming to “heal dry skin” be sure to check and see it has a proven hydrating ingredient, such as ceramides, glycerin, shea butter or stearic acid, lactic acid, dimethicone, urea or mineral oil. “If your skin is dry, find an oil-based cream or lotion,” says Dr. Sandra Kopp from Schweiger Dermatology Group in Whiting, New Jersey. “If you have sensitive skin, it’s best to use products with glycerin, as the other ingredients may cause a burning sensation on irritated skin.” You’ll also want to blacklist any moisturizers that contain alcohols or fragrances, which can exacerbate dry skin.

    Adds SDG’s Dr. Michele Farber: “Switch to a heavier cream, especially if you are prone to dry skin, and don’t forget to moisturize your body as well. This mean choosing a cream rather than a lotion. And still don’t forget the SPF in your morning routine even in colder months.”

  6. Swap out your moisturizer for a winter-friendly formula

    Not all moisturizers are created equal. “Maintaining a healthy skin barrier is essential for decreasing water loss from the body and keeping out irritants/allergens and environmental pollutants,” says Dr. Jennifer David of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Bala Cynwyd, PA. “Our outer layer of skin (stratum corneum) is like a fortress wall made up of keratinocyte (bricks) and a lipid matrix that holds them together (mortar) that guards and protects our inner body. This lipid mixture is made up of ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids.

    The best barrier repair moisturizers provide a balanced ratio of these key ingredients. This should be the focus for anyone with eczema prone skin, chronically dry skin or for protecting the skin from the elements during the winter months.” Dr. David says the ingredients to look for in a moisturizer are: Linoleic acid, sphingolipids, sterols, phospholipids, steric acid, oleic acid. She recommends CeraVe, Eucerin Advanced Repair, Aveeno Skin Relief Moisture Repair.

  7. Lips Get Dry, Too

    Keep a lip balm close at hand at all times. The best way to treat dry, cracked lips is with a lip balm that will really seep into your lips. Our dermatologists swear by Vaseline and Aquaphor as tried and true lip hydrators. “Aquaphor and Vaseline are easy products to use to prevent hydration evaporation,” says Dr. Nazarian.

  8. Pay Attention to Nails

    “Nails have the potential for damage thanks to manicures, acetone, and even saliva for people who bite their nails and destroy the nail plate,” says Dr. Nazarian. Practice good nail and hand-habits, which include twice daily moisturizing with a ceramide-based cream, application of a barrier repair emollient to prevent moisture loss during less humid months, and avoidance of over-washing.

  9. Follow a healthy diet

    The building blocks for healthy hair, skin and nails include proteins, fats, and vitamins- each to varying degrees. Dr. Nazarian tells her patients to follow a diet that includes “healthy fats” such as olive oil, avocados, salmon, a daily multi-vitamin, at least half-a-liter of water and protein. “Hydration levels and water intake can change day-to-day, and skin will reflect that—looking duller and aged within a day or two of decreased intake,” says Dr. Nazarian. However, even if your diet is perfect, practicing good hygiene when it comes to hair, skin and nails is just as important to avoid damage and prevent moisture loss.


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