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If you've ever scratched your arm or leg and left a trail of white flakes (who hasn't?), then you’ve seen the effects of dry skin. While uncomfortable, dry skin usually isn’t "serious," but it can make a formerly-smooth complexion tight, itchy and more prone to fine lines. Dryness can also make your skin appear rough and scaly, and is often accompanied by flaking and peeling too. In some extreme cases, deep fissures may appear—ouch!
Dry skin is the most severe in the winter months when the temperature and humidity levels fall. But most home heating systems don't help—they too can strip your skin of moisture, leaving it tight and uncomfortable.
And while you might think it's helpful, taking a hot bath, in addition to daily use of harsh soaps and detergents (known skin irritants), deodorant and antibacterial soaps (often the worst offenders), can make your symptoms even worse. So what can you do?
Treating Your Dry Skin
Take short, warm baths and showers. Long, hot soaks in the bath or showers can strip the protective oils from your skin. Instead, aim for quick (15 minutes or less), warm (not hot) soaking sessions. After your bath or shower, moisturize your skin while it's still damp.
Moisturize often. Applying a rich cream or lotion will help seal in moisture and keep water from escaping. If your skin is extremely dry, you can use a moisturizing oil, such as almond oil (apply it directly to damp skin or pour a capful into your bath water). Apply any moisturizer after a bath or shower while your skin is still moist to maximize its effectiveness.
Choose a mild cleanser. Non-foaming cleansing creams and liquid shower gels with added moisturizers are the best options for dry skin. Avoid deodorant and antibacterial bar soaps, which are especially harsh.
Dry off gently. Gently dry off after a shower or bath by patting your skin with a soft towel. Immediately moisturize with an oil or cream while your skin is still damp.
Add moisture to the air. Dry indoor air can strip moisture from your skin, making it itchy and flaky. Buy a room humidifier (or a whole-house humidifier for your heating system) to add moisture to the air inside your home, making sure to keep the unit clean to minimize bacteria and mold. Placing bowls of water on your radiators is a low-tech option if you live in an older home.
Wear gentle fabrics. Dry skin is easily irritated, so wear clothing made from soft, natural materials like cotton and silk. Wash your clothing with a detergent that doesn’t contain dyes or perfumes, which can irritate your skin.