Middle-of-the-Road Skin continued...
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).