Skin is our body’s number one defense against infection, so it’s important to maintain an intact, healthy epidermis in order to keep bacteria at bay. Normal skin has a thin layer of natural fats, or lipids, that help seal in moisture and keep skin soft and elastic. By letting skin get dried out and cracked and by scratching with germ-ridden fingernails, you can be letting all sorts of infectious bacteria, possibly leading to dermatitis, a chronic inflammation of the skin. Most dry skin is caused by simple environmental factors, such as dry winter air, harsh soaps or sensitivities to clothing fabric. Getting to the root of the problem is the best way to return to healthy, supple skin.
A major contributor to dry skin is the bath soap we use, as it tends to quickly strip off protective oils. When buying soap, many consumers exacerbate dry skin problems by choosing lathery products with harsh deodorant and antibacterial products, rather than looking for mild, fragrance-free soaps or gentle skin cleansers. Abrasive sponges, brushes and exfoliants can also rob skin of necessary natural oils, and detergents and dyes used on fabrics can be irritating and drying.
We all know that it’s important to moisturize, but it’s also vital to use it in proper fashion. One of the biggest moisturizing mistakes is applying lotion or cream to dry skin, which hampers its effectiveness. Instead, apply moisturizer right after bathing, thus sealing in the moisture still on your skin. Pat skin dry, apply moisturizer, let it soak in, then towel off the excess. Another common misuse of moisturizer is buying the wrong product. Moisturizer that is too thick and greasy may not be absorbed by many skin types and a product that’s too thin may just slip off the skin. Check ingredients, as perfumes can irritate skin sensitivities, and alcohol content may actually exacerbate dryness.
Winter brings dry, chilly air outside and dry, heated air inside, often causing dormant dry skin problems to kick into high gear. Called winter itch, cold weather skin problems can be helped by moisturizing, turning the thermostat down, using a humidifier in the house and bundling up when outdoors to protect from drying winds.
Long, Hot Showers
Bathing, particularly in hot water, can rinse away the natural oils that protect the skin, causing that tight feeling skin has on emerging from the bath or shower. Baths in particular can dry skin out, as long soaks give the hot water plenty of time to wash away those protective lipids. Take a shower instead, preferably in lukewarm water, and then pat body dry and moisturize immediately.
Some medications have a tendency to dry out skin, particularly high blood pressure drugs and retinoids, so if you notice a change in your skin’s texture or an unusual itchiness after starting a new medication, check with your doctor to see if medication or dosage can be changed. Occasionally, dry skin is an indicator of an internal medical problem. Changing hormonal levels in older folks, diabetes, hypothyroidism, eczema and psoriasis can all contribute to dry skin problems. Normally, attending to the underlying problem will clear up associated skin conditions.
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