Fight Dry Skin and Win

Life & Beauty Weekly: Hair & Beauty

By Robin Immerman Gruen for Life & Beauty Weekly

When it comes to your skin, you may think that lotion is enough to keep it soft, smooth and clear of flakes. Unfortunately, that alone may not always get the job done.

As we age, our skin naturally becomes drier. And harsh elements like sun, harsh wind and cold, dry weather all wreak havoc on the skin by disrupting its natural barrier, which leads to the loss of our skin’s natural moisture, says Toronto-based dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll, director of dermatology at the Medcan Clinic and associate at the Bay Dermatology Centre.

Thankfully, it takes just a few simple tweaks to your routine to enhance your skin’s ability to hold in moisture and win the battle against dryness. Try these dermatologist tips for trapping moisture into the skin of your face, hands and body.

1. Exfoliate Dry, Dead Skin Cells
Excess dry, dead skin cells (also known as the stratum corneum) can be difficult to moisturize, says Carroll. “When they build up on the surface, your skin appears much drier.”

Look for a mild facial scrub or cleanser that contains soft, round synthetic beads and gently exfoliate once or twice a week. For your body, use a loofah, sugar scrub or even a washcloth. The light exfoliation buffs away the layer of cells, clearing the way for your lotion to do its job.

2. Seal in Hydration
When choosing a lotion for your body, you may want to look for such ingredients as dimethicone or plant oils (such as coconut or avocado). These will help form an invisible seal on your skin, preventing moisture from escaping.

“Some plant oils, such as mechanically pressed shea butter, are excellent emollients,” says Carroll. “However, some products add unnecessary plant oils, which can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive skin. The safest and most effective ingredient for sealing in moisture is actually petrolatum.”

3. Apply Lotion After a Shower
The best time to apply cream or lotion: Directly after you shower or wash your face, when skin is slightly damp. (Lightly blot skin dry, leaving some moisture behind.) “Use the three-minute rule,” says Dr. Denise Wexler, president of the Canadian Dermatology Association. “It is important to apply moisturizer all over the skin while the skin is still slightly damp to hold in the moisture.” 

4. Boost Ceramide Levels
For your face, look for lotions that contain niacin or niacinamide, a form of vitamin B-3. The ingredient increases the skin’s moisture from the inside. It works by bolstering ceramide levels. Ceramides are lipids that coat individual cells, helping them maintain moisture. A study published in the International Journal of Dermatology found that a cream containing niacinamide moisturized and prevented water loss better than did petrolatum, a form of petroleum jelly and well-known, effective moisturizing agent.

5. Humidify Indoor Air
Cold temperatures and dry heat means little or no humidity in the air. Result: The air will suck moisture from wherever it can get it, including your skin.

“As the temperature drops, so does the humidity in the air. Add to that traditional forced air heating and you have desert-like air,” says Carroll. “This dry air pulls moisture from anywhere it can, like you skin or lips. By adding moisture back into the air with a humidifier, you prevent that process.” 

6. Take Shorter Showers
A long, steamy shower may feel great in the moment, but don’t be seduced by the heat: It’s setting you up for dry, flaky, itchy skin later. “The warmer the water temperature and the longer the shower, the more water that evaporates from your skin,” says Carroll. “This can lead to dry, scaly skin and in the case of people with eczema they can actually develop a rash. So keep it short and turn down the hot dial.”

7. Wear Gloves
Whether you’re washing dishes, cleaning the bathroom or doing some other chore, always don rubber gloves to protect vulnerable hand skin from harsh cleaning agents. Household cleaners contain degreasing chemicals that, while useful for a shipshape home, can strip your skin and allow moisture to escape. Also try applying a thick coat of hand cream before putting on the gloves. Occluding moisturizers with rubber or even cotton gloves help them penetrate better.

“Cleaning products are often harsh and can damage the skin’s natural barrier, leading to eczema,” says Carroll. “Also, with repeated exposure to water, your hands can dry out as the moisture evaporates off your hands, pulling the natural moisture with it.”

8. Say Sayonara to Soap
Soaps can be drying, especially in the winter, says Carroll. “I always remind my patients that most people don’t need to use a cleanser on all their body parts, just the underarms and private parts as well as the face,” she says. “Using a cleaner regularly on the entire body is overkill for most people.”

Soap can compromise the skin’s protective barrier, allowing moisture to escape and opening the door for irritation. Instead, opt for creamy, non-soap cleansers for both face and body. They sport a lower pH and usually deposit moisturizing ingredients while breaking down dirt.

Robin Immerman Gruen
has been a beauty editor at
Parents, Seventeen and
Shape. Now a freelance writer and editor, she has written for
American Way, Parents, Chicago Parent and
Real Simple, plus the Web sites Beauty Blitz, Total Beauty, Style Chicago, and Glossed and Found.