Staten Island, NY - In the climes of Africa, the elephant’s dry, cracked skin is a boon, warding off heat and pests. But for humans, especially those subject to cold winters, dry skin can be a serious problem. “Once our skin gets really dry,” explains Rebecca Sklar, a certified registered physician’s assistant specializing in dermatology with Advanced Dermatology PC, “we’re faced not only with discomfort, but also with the possibility that serious conditions and infections may develop.”
Dry skin – scientifically referred to as xerosis – is a common skin problem that can develop at any time. The cold, dry air of winter, as well as our desire to warm up, can exacerbate the condition.
“Winter air is inherently low humidity,” observes Sklar, “which puts our skin at risk of losing moisture. Add in long hot showers and baths to defrost, and we also risk stripping away our skin’s protective oils. The result? Dry skin.”
In its early stages, dry skin is an uncomfortable nuisance, often rough and itchy. Left untreated it can progress to cracking and bleeding, allowing bacteria to invade below the surface and cause infection. “Treating dry skin early is key so that we avoid the more serious problems that extremely dry skin can cause,” emphasizes Sklar.
6 Tips to Restore Dry Skin in the Winter:
1. Bring the tropics home: “Humidifiers add moisture to our dry winter environment,” says Sklar “They combat the dry air that robs our skin of its moisture.”
2. Cleanse ‘clean’ and gentle: “We need to prevent cleansers from stripping away protective oils or causing irritation,” explains Sklar. “That means no harsh soaps, no deodorants or fragrances, no alcohols or antibacterial agents. The same goes for household detergents that we use. Also, no overwashing: for our face, maximum is twice a day; for very dry skin, just once in the evening, with a cool water rinse the next morning. In terms of more frequent hand-cleansing to avoid viruses, consider a moisturizing sanitizer – not one that is alcohol based.”
3. Shower and shave smart: “A hot shower might feel good in the moment,” acknowledges Sklar, “but, for dry skin, the aftereffects won’t. If we keep baths and showers warm and limited to five to ten minutes, we actually can boost moisture – especially if we gently pat dry and immediately moisturize while our skin is still damp. In terms of shaving, to avoid irritation, we should shave while our skin is still bath- or shower-soft: apply a gentle shaving product at least three minutes in advance and shave in the direction of the hair follicle.”
4. Learn the M.O.s of moisturizers: “Moisturizers help,” emphasizes Sklar. “Humectants such as lecithin attract and retain water. For extremely dry skin, the humectants urea and lactic acid (an alpha hydroxy acid) can be found in over-the-counter and prescription forms. Other moisturizers – for example petroleum jelly and natural oils like coconut oil – help seal in moisture. Finally, emollients like lauric acid (found in coconut oil) help smooth and soothe skin. In general, thicker products are more protective, making ointments and creams more effective than lotions. We should apply moisturizers multiple times a day – and certainly after every time we wash.”
5. Outfit your skin with TLC: “’Gentle’ also applies to our clothing,” notes Sklar. “Itchy fabrics like wool should be worn over something soft and non-abrasive, like cotton. And outdoors, we need to shield our skin from the cold, dry air: break out the scarves and gloves!”
6. Know when to see a dermatologist: “If dry skin is not alleviated,” states Sklar, “it’s time to see a doctor. It may have reached a level that requires additional intervention, such as prescription-level moisturizers and products to calm inflammation. In some cases, dry skin may be a symptom of an underlying skin condition, like eczema, or medical problem, such as thyroid dysfunction or diabetes.”
“The elephant’s skin,” concludes Sklar, “is the answer to its challenging climate. Fortunately, people also have ways to address the dry skin challenges they face in winter.”