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Dry Skin: Soothing the Itch in Winter

Does your dry skin make you want to hibernate?

WebMD Feature

Does winter-dry skin make you want to hibernate this time of year?

You're not alone. No matter what our age, most of us experience flaky, itchy skin at some point when the weather gets chilly. The culprits may be winter wind, dry indoor air, harsh soaps, low humidity, or even a cold-weather sunburn.

With all that working against us, what can we do to pamper -- and prevent -- dry skin? The experts offer help with these winter skin care tips.

1st Step for Dry Skin Care: Prepare Your Skin

  • Clear Away Old Skin Cells

Sloughing away dead cells is the first step to pampering your dry skin, writes Joely A. Kaufman, MD, in the American Academy of Dermatology's Skin News Briefs. That's because the clearer the skin, the deeper a moisturizer can penetrate.

To shed old skin cells, Kaufman suggests exfoliating with an over-the-counter or prescription keratolytic moisturizer, one containing lactic or salicylic acid. And whether or not you're dealing with normal, sensitive, or dry skin, it's always a good idea to exfoliate gently -- a soft scrub is all you need. If your skin is super dry or irritated, talk to your doctor before starting a new skin care product or regimen.

  • Take Time to Moisturize

Once you've got a fresh, smooth surface to work with, soothe winter-dry skin with an oil-based moisturizer. Thick, heavy products like these have more staying power, and keep water from evaporating from your skin.

Not a fan of fancy creams and lotions? You can also help dry skin with basic moisturizer ingredients such as mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or glycerin. Whichever product you choose, be sure to smooth on your preferred moisturizer right after a shower, then pat your skin dry.

2nd Step for Dry Skin Care: Clean the Right Way

  • Warm Showers and Baths Only, Please

Long, hot showers may feel divine, but they can be damning for troubled, itchy skin, drying it out even further, reports Susan C. Taylor, MD, in Skin News Briefs. The solution if you're dealing with dry skin: learn to warm up to short, lukewarm baths and showers, which help your body retain its natural, skin-protecting oils.

And when you bathe, use soap only on the spots that really need it, such as your face, underarms, groin, and feet. Since the rest of your body doesn't tend to get very dirty, a simple warm-water wash everywhere else is fine say the pros -- and it helps you retain those vital natural oils.

  • Use a Gentle Cleanser

Scented, deodorant, and anti-bacterial soaps can be harsh, stripping skin of essential oils. That's why many skin care experts suggest using non-scented, mild cleansers or soap-free products like Aveeno, Cetaphil, Dove, Dreft, or Neutrogena.

Body washes with petrolatum (another name for petroleum jelly) are also a great option for soothing very dry skin, says Kaufman, helping to trap in water as you clean.

Brush Up on Beauty

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