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Soothe Dry Skin When You Have a Cold

By Mary Jo DiLonardo
WebMD Feature

When you have a cold, it also affects your skin. So while you're getting over your cold, give your skin some TLC, too.  

Shower Smart

Long, hot showers can help ease a stopped up head, but they dry your skin. Because spending a lot of time in the water can suck the moisture right out of your skin, limit your bath or shower to 5-10 minutes. Use warm -- not hot -- water. And only take a shower or bath once every 24 hours.

Skip the soap. "The purpose of soap is to cut grease. The greasy, oily layer on top of our skin keeps the water underneath it in and keeps our skin hydrated," says Karthik Krishnamurthy, DO, director of the Cosmetic Dermatology Clinic at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. "Soap strips away that oily layer. The important thing is to get water back in our skin and get a greasy layer back on."

Instead of soap, use a gentle non-soap cleanser on your face and body. Don't use antibacterial or perfumed soap, deodorant bars, exfoliating cleansers, or any skin care products that contain alcohol -- like many hand sanitizers. Use products that are fragrance-free. They're less likely to irritate and dry your skin.

Moisturize Often

After your shower or bath, slather on moisturizer right away -- ideally while your skin is still soaking wet, Krishnamurthy says. "Leave your moisturizer on the shower shelf with your soap and shampoo. Don’t even step out of the shower. Put it on while you're dripping wet, then pat yourself dry."

Thick, heavy creams last longer than light lotions. The thicker and greasier the lotion, the more it will trap and hold the water in your skin. You can look for ingredients like ceramides that are like skin's natural fat. But simple petroleum jelly, mineral oil, shea butter, and glycerin are effective moisturizers, too.

For places with very dry skin -- like on the bottom of your feet -- try ingredients like urea or lactic acid. They help skin hold in moisture, but can sting if you have cracked skin or eczema.

Moisturize throughout the day. Since you'll be washing your hands often to keep from spreading germs, keep lotion by the sink so you can nourish your skin every time you wash up. If your skin feels itchy or uncomfortable throughout the day -- especially your hands, arms, and legs -- then moisturize. Reapply before you go to bed.

Protect From the Outdoors

When you have a cold, you should stay home while you're getting better. But if you have to go out, protect your skin.

The sun, wind, and cold all can be enemies when your skin is dry and sore. Though the sun's rays can be less intense in cold weather, they can still burn and damage your skin -- leading to even more peeling, flaking, and itchiness. That's why it's important to wear sunscreen all year long. Choose a "broad-spectrum" sunscreen of SPF 30.

Wearing a scarf, hat, and gloves can protect from the sun. They can also help save you from the drying effects of cold weather and wind.

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