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Soaked to the Skin: Moisturizing Advice for Drying Times


By Gabrielle N. Johnston, MPH   |   October 27, 2017

Pumpkin spice lattes, apple cinnamon candles, fall foliage and dry skin. What?! Yep, dry skin starts showing up right around the same time you begin indulging in some of fall and winter’s greatest pleasures. Typically this means heading out to your local pharmacy or drug store to find a remedy that will help ease these symptoms, but what should you look for when there are hundreds of options available? Understanding products, their ingredients and how they work is essential in selecting the best choice.

What causes dry skin?

dry skin

“Many issues with dry skin in the winter months are caused by running heaters that dry out the air in your home, and it is the dry air that can lead to dry or scaly skin,” said Renu F. Singh, PharmD, clinical professor at Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of California San Diego. To help counteract some of the effects of heating your home, Singh recommends sleeping with a humidifier in your bedroom to help reintroduce moisture into the environment. “Another good tip is taking short (no more than five minutes) showers in lukewarm water and avoiding excessive use of harsh soaps.” After five minutes of bathing in warm or hot water, said Singh, your skin begins to lose natural oils that are essential to keeping skin moist. Finally, after leaving the shower or bath, it is important to gently pat skin dry (do not rub as this could irritate skin), leaving behind small beads of water and apply a moisturizer within three minutes. This enables the moisturizer to spread easily over the skin and be absorbed well.

What moisturizer should I pick?

Browsing store aisles and seeing the variety of skin moisturizers available can be overwhelming. There are three primary types: ointments, creams and lotions, often with multiple moisturizing ingredients. “Ointments are usually petroleum-based and are very effective in lubricating the skin, but are greasier than creams and lotions that are primarily water-based and are easier to apply over large areas of the skin,” said Singh. No matter what option you end up choosing, it is important to always read the ingredient label, especially if you, or whomever you are buying for, has allergies or sensitive skin. If allergies or sensitivity are a concern, make sure to choose an ointment, cream or lotion that is fragrance and dye free as these ingredients can be more irritating to the skin. “It is also important to remember that many common moisturizers also use lanolin as an ingredient, so people with wool allergies should avoid lanolin-containing products,” Singh stressed.

When should you make an appointment with a dermatologist?

Once you’ve selected your moisturizer of choice, you should apply it at least three times a day to help treat and prevent dry skin. “Legs and arms are particularly vulnerable to dry skin in the winter, so pay particular attention to these areas,” said Singh. If your new moisturizing routine doesn’t start helping with your dry skin after one to two weeks, it may be time to schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor or dermatologist. Other signs that point to needing an appointment sooner include the development of open sores that are yellow and crusted that have developed from scratching itchy skin, or if the itching is keeping you awake at night. “Overall, dry skin is a result of less water content in the skin, so in addition to everything else, make sure you drink plenty of water to keep well-hydrated!”

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