Dry skin isn't fun. The dryness, flaking, itching and a feeling of tightness it brings on is far from comfortable.
Whether the blame belongs to cold or dry air, over-washing or those long, hot showers that feel so good in the moment, the cause is the same: the wearing away and depletion of the protective skin barrier. For fast relief, you want to treat dry skin in a variety of ways, which tackle all of the major triggers.
Check out these expert tips on how to get your soft, supple skin back.
Use the Right Ingredients
Moisturizers aren’t all created equal: Some treat the root cause of the dryness, while others may temporarily mask or even worsen symptoms. “Ceramides are natural fats that are depleted in dry, itchy skin,” explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical dermatology research at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center. Look to these lipid molecules as your most effective tool to rebuild the skin barrier, along with hyaluronic acid and glycerin, which bind water to skin.
Steer clear of dehydrating alcohol and fragrance-heavy products—both of which can dry your skin. Also watch for phenol and menthol in lip balms, which can result in more irritation than hydration, adds Zeichner.
Slip on Some Tights
“Wearing tights or hosiery can help prevent dry skin during the winter season by protecting legs from cold and wind,” says New York University assistant professor of clinical dermatology, Rebecca Baxt, M.D. But that’s not all: The close-fitting fabric retains moisture in low-humidity conditions, keeping your skin more hydrated. Look for soft cotton and spandex blends for greatest comfort, and stay away from wools that can scratch against dry skin and even cause rashes.
Hydrate As You Cleanse
Long, hot showers dry out skin faster than you can say “sahara,” but even we have to admit that the standard expert advice to stick to lukewarm showers under 10 minutes isn’t exactly appealing in the depths of bone-chilling winter. Other skin-saving strategies include switching from shaving cream to a conditioner to shave your legs, which doubles as a budget-savvy way to use up that extra conditioner left after you’ve gone through the partner shampoo. Also, try a soap-free cleanser like Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash or Neova Antioxidant Cleansing Milk to wash your face without stripping your skin of its natural protective barrier. And once out of the shower, moisturize as quickly as possible, while skin is still damp and apt to absorb as much hydration as possible.
You can also slip into a soothing bath that’s rich in hydration by adding a few tablespoons of emollient olive oil. Oatmeal is another bath additive that has long been used to treat skin conditions ranging from dry skin and poison ivy reactions to the chicken pox. Oats contain hydrating fats that calm and nourish skin, according to Zeichner. You’ll want to use colloidal oatmeal, which stays on the surface of water for maximum contact with skin and can be found at your local drugstore.
Moisturize from the Inside Out
Skin health begins on the inside and what you eat can affect how efficient your skin is at maintaining a healthy protective barrier. “Antioxidants help prevent environmental damage and strengthen collagen elastin,” says Zeichner. Antioxidant-rich citrus fruits like oranges and pineapples help fight free radicals, while green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and broccoli boast superpower levels of vitamin K, vitamin C, carotenoids and magnesium—all essential nutrients to glowing, naturally hydrated skin.
Healthy fats like legumes, beans and raw nuts are also key building blocks of skin cells, enhancing the rejuvenation and replenishment of skin. Watery fruits and vegetables (like cucumbers, tomatoes or watermelon) are replete with juice, which quenches with every bite. Limit alcohol and caffeine intake since both dehydrate the body.
Humidify the Air
Home heating systems can make already dry air even more drying—particularly if you have a forced air heat system, which zaps humidity levels. While skin typically needs more than 30 percent humidity to stay hydrated, homes heated with furnaces can hover at less than 10 percent humidity for months at a time. “A relatively easy fix is to buy a humidifier,” says New York City dermatologist Neal Schultz, M.D.
Humidifiers moisten air by aerosolizing water from a chamber, which must be replaced with fresh water daily to prevent bacteria and fungi from growing. There are two types you can choose from: steam humidifiers boil water to add warm vapor to the air, while cool water humidifiers use different mechanisms to release a cool mist. “My choice is the cool water ultrasonic because I think it works the best and is the quietest,” says Schultz of the device that pushes microscopic droplets of water into the air with vibrations.
Treat Your Skin Overnight
You may have heard of the body’s natural circadian rhythm—our internal biological clock that regulates several processes including sleep. But what you may not know is that skin transforms itself through the circadian rhythm as well, according to New York dermatologist, Jeannette Graf, M.D. During daylight, skin goes into “protective mode,” slowing cell turnover and producing more oil as a shield. At night while you’re sleeping, cell regeneration kicks up as skin goes into a restorative mode, which is an especially advantageous time to target dry skin.
Make it a habit to apply hydrating serums, moisturizers and treatments before bed, so skin has an assist while doing its most intense work of the 24-hour cycle. Slather extra dry areas like hands and feet with shea or cocoa butter and then slide on cotton socks to intensify the effect (and keep your sheets clean) as your cells work their intuitive magic.
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