No matter what your skin type, winter dryness doesn't discriminate: It can occur anywhere on the body, from the top of your head to the soles of your feet. The result of cold temperatures, whipping winds, and indoor heating, "winter dryness is also one of the main reasons that skin often looks older than its years," says Katie Rodan, M.D., adjunct clinical associate professor of dermatology at Stanford University School of Medicine. But you don't have to spend another season letting dryness and inflammation age you. "Skin that's well moisturized always looks healthier and younger," says Dr. Rodan. How exactly do you care for the skin you're in? Take our quiz. Then tally your score and get tailored-to-you advice on keeping your birthday suit healthy, flake free—and forever young.
Quiz: Winter-Skin Checkup
How dry are you, really? Diagnose your level—then learn how to deal with it.
- In what part of the country do you live?
- How old are you?
a. Under 30
b. 30 to 45
c. Over 45
- Do the following test: Place a piece of clear tape on the back of your hand. Leave it there for several seconds, then gently pull it off. Your tape is:
a. Still clear
b. Flaky in spots
c. Totally clouded by flakes
- Are you ever self-conscious about your dry skin? For example, do you notice flakes on your legs as you sit in a meeting?
- How often are you in the itch-scratch cycle? (You scratch an itch, then your skin gets inflamed and begs to be scratched more.)
c. Frequently, especially in winter
- Wash your face and leave it bare—no moisturizer, sunscreen, makeup, etc. Ten minutes later, your skin:
a. Is well hydrated (it looks shiny)
b. Feels tight, slightly dry
c. Feels very dry, and it's flaking or cracking
- You apply foundation in the morning. By lunchtime, it:
a. Appears to be almost gone
b. Still looks pretty smooth in most places
c. Has started to cake, especially around your face's dry patches and wrinkles
- In photos, your face appears shiny:
- Your skin is red and itchy:
- After a plane trip, your skin:
a. Looks and feels the same as when you boarded
b. Is a little dry, but looks OK
c. Looks and feels (painfully) parched, with noticeable dry patches or chapping
Your skin is almost baby fresh.
Diagnosis: Your skin is super-healthy...now try to maintain that status quo.
You're middle-of-the-road dry.
Diagnosis: Your skin is definitely thirsty...but you have a secret weapon.
You're as dry as the Sahara Desert .
Diagnosis: Your skin may be unable to retain water.
Find Your Personalized Plan: Healthy Skin
Lucky you: The only dryness you experience is the kind that sneaks up on your elbows and heels. (If you have any problem at all, it's likely to be that your skin is too oily.) Why is your skin doing such a good job of retaining moisture? Partly, it's because it contains enough natural oils. But there's another reason: Your skin maintains a strong, protective barrier that keeps moisture in and irritants out. This barrier is composed of skin cells, which are surrounded by fats called lipids. (Think of your cells as bricks and the lipids as mortar.) Everyone's skin has a protective layer, but yours is in better shape than most.
Your plan: Maintain your natural moisture, while giving TLC to the occasional dry patches.
To do: Use face and body wash for normal or combo skin, as long as it's not oil-based or too perfumed. Try Almay Cleansing Lotion ($10) or Kiehl's Unscented Body Cleanser ($12).
If you tend to be oily, try an oil-free lotion like Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture ($12). And since people with this kind of skin tend to be acne-prone, check labels for noncomedogenic, which means the product won't clog pores, says Debra Jaliman, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
To moisturize your body, choose lotions rather than heavy creams, which tend to be oily. Try Jergens Skin Smoothing Cellular Renewal Moisturizer ($7).
Moisturize your driest spots to prevent a chronic case of rough skin. Use a lotion that's rich but quickly absorbed. Try Olay Body Quench Therapy Repair Concentrate ($8).
You do have a case of thirsty skin, but there's a silver lining: "Your barrier is probably intact; the problem is most likely that you have lower levels of natural moisture," says Leslie Baumann, M.D., director of the University of Miami Cosmetic Research Center. That means your skin lacks oil but can hold on to moisture you give it.
Your plan: Increase the moisture in your skin and maintain it.
To do: Avoid harsh soaps (like the ones most men and teens use); they strip natural oils. "‘Squeaky-clean' isn't good—it's an indication of dryness," explains New York City dermatologist Amy Wechsler, M.D. Instead, try a cleanser for sensitive skin or a hydrating formula that leaves behind a layer of lipids—even after you rinse. Try CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser ($12), which is loaded with the lipids known as ceramides.
Exfoliate regularly to get rid of dead skin, which moisturizers can't penetrate. But don't rub too hard, warns Dr. Wechsler. "While dryness can be environmental or genetic, sometimes it's brought on or worsened by something we do to our skin—like over-scrubbing," she says. Her Rx: Once a week, use a light exfoliant. Try Therapy Systems Amazingly Gentle Face Scrub ($34) or Bliss Steep Clean Body Polish ($42).
When you step out of the shower, moisturize within three minutes. Post-shower dampness is good for your face if you seal it in; let it evaporate, and you'll end up even drier, says Susan C. Taylor, M.D., director of Society Hill Dermatology in Philadelphia. Try Clinique Continuous Rescue Antioxidant Moisturizer ($40) or Nivea Body Essentially Enriched Daily Lotion ($7).
Skip hot baths—they drain the water out of your skin. A better choice: quick, lukewarm showers. In fact, ask yourself whether you even need a daily shower. "Research shows that skin loses 25 percent of its natural moisturizers with each wash," says Melissa Katz, an R&D scientist and cleansing manager at the Unilever North American Regional Technical Center.
Flaking, itchiness, inflammation—you've got it all. And you probably look older than your better-hydrated counterparts. So what's making you so parched that you want to crawl out of your skin? The problem: Your skin barrier—the wall of cells and fat that keeps moisture in and irritants out—is probably impaired and, as a result, unable to retain water. Other Sahara-skin factors: age (if you're over 40, your body is probably producing less of its own oil), genetics (predisposing some people to dryness, allergies, and severe skin irritation like eczema), or skin-care mistakes (like too-aggressive cleansing).
Your plan: You can't boost your own natural oil production, but the good news is you can repair your barrier, says Dr. Wechsler. That will help you hold on to moisture and oil—and you'll look younger in the process.
To do: Follow the moisturizing advice suggested for the middle-of-the-road group, with one big difference: Choose products with heavy-duty hydration properties, and use them more frequently. A rich cream provides the ingredients your skin barrier lacks (like fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol); apply it at least three time daily. Try Nivea Q10 Advanced Wrinkle Reducer Night Cream ($11).
Moisturize your body (not just your face) with the same types of rich ingredients mentioned above. "You can't over-moisturize if you're in this group," says Dr. Baumann. And since you probably haven't had acne in years, don't shy away from oils, says Dr. Jaliman. Try Dove Pro-Age Body Cream Oil ($7) or Decléor Aromessence Nourishing Concentrate ($62). Tip: Prevent irritation that can leave behind lasting spots by moisturizing any area where you feel the urge to scratch.
Be wary of bar soaps, foaming or gel cleansers, and toners, all of which can be drying. Instead, use soap-free products to keep your skin's moisture level intact. Try Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser ($11).
Coat your driest parts (like soles of feet, where skin is three to five times thicker than on the rest of your body) with a thick, even greasy, cream as often as possible. Try Cur é l Targeted Therapy Deep-Penetrating Foot Cream ($8). Tip: Apply cream and cover your skin in plastic wrap and a sock overnight.
5 Commandments of Great Skin
- Keep your moisturizers in plain sight. That way, you'll remember to use them quickly, before your face and body are completely dry.
- Eat some "good fat," even if you're on a diet. Skip unhealthy saturated fats (like butter) and reach for foods with essential fatty acids (like those found in salmon, nuts, flaxseed, and avocados). These healthy fats are core components of both lipids and sebum (your body's natural oils), says California-based dermatologist Howard Murad, M.D. They are also said to calm inflamed skin. Aim to get two to four servings a day.
- Learn to love sunscreen—year-round. Yes, you've heard it before. Now your skin wants you to listen. Solar rays disrupt the skin's barrier and decrease its ability to moisturize naturally. Enough said.
- Be a teetotaler. Many moisturizers contain fatty alcohols that are good for your skin, but the same can't be said for alcohol that comes in a bottle. Avoid its dehydrating, dulling effects by limiting yourself to two to three drinks a week.
- Drink your H 2 0—and retain it "What matters is the water you keep, not the water you drink," says Dr. Murad meaning that if your skin cells can't hold on to the water you consume, you could drink a lake and it wouldn't help. Strengthen your skin cells with nutrients like lecithin (in egg yolks and walnuts) and glucosamine (from a supplement); boost hydration by eating more water-rich fruits and veggies.
GHRI Test: The Best Antiaging Hand Cream
Nothing shows (or exaggerates) your age more than your hands. Your best defense is an antiaging hand cream, so the GH Research Institute tested four to see which gave the best results. With the help of Dr. Wechsler, we evaluated our volunteers' hands, then asked them to use cream on just one hand for four weeks. The results: Vaseline Intensive Care Age Redefining Hand Lotion ($4) was the most effective. The testers all said their treated hands looked younger than the untreated ones, and Dr. Wechsler agreed. Plus, volunteers liked its nongreasy feel.