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The Dry-Skin Workbook

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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).

Middle-of-the-Road Skin

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).

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