Here are their top 10 tips for keeping your skin soft and smooth—even while you're washing your hands all the time.

By Madison Yauger
December 02, 2020
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Winter provides an abundance of merriment in the form of holidays, seasonal treats, and cold weather recreation—but the crisp air also brings something decidedly less merry: dry skin.

Normally, dry skin is anticipated in the winter, but this year it's been further perpetuated by more frequent pandemic-induced hand-washing and hand sanitizer use. That being said, Health spoke with several dermatology experts, and there are many ways to combat this skin condition. Here's what you should know about dry skin and how to get rid of it, as winter looms ahead.

What is dry skin?

"The outer skin layer is designed to protect your body from the environment and maintain skin hydration. When the skin barrier becomes damaged, it develops microscopic cracks, leading to loss of hydration. This translates to dry, flaky, itchy skin," Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, tells Health.

Dr. Zeichner says dry skin can be caused by many factors including genetic weaknesses in the skin barrier and the environment. "Everything from cold weather with low humidity, over-scrubbing, [using] the wrong cleanser, or exposure to skin allergies or irritants, can all contribute to dry skin," he says.

What are symptoms of dry skin?

Luckily, the symptoms of dry skin are fairly straightforward, meaning if you have it, you'll know it. According to The Mayo Clinic, dry skin, also known as xerosis, can present itself through any of the following symptoms:

  • Sensation of tightness, especially after showering, bathing or swimming
  • Skin that appears shrunken or dehydrated
  • Skin that feels and looks rough rather than smooth
  • Itching that sometimes may be intense
  • Slight to severe flaking, scaling or peeling skin
  • Fine lines or cracks in the skin
  • Redness

It should also be noted that people with preexisting skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis are particularly prone to dry skin.

How can you treat and prevent dry skin?

Because dry skin tends to pop up most in cold weather, wintertime is when "we need to change our regimens," Mary L. Stevenson, MD., a New York-based dermatologic surgeon, tells Health. "It is hard to "cure" dry skin," she says, adding that those who have dry skin (like Dr. Stevenson herself) should opt for a skin-care regimen that prevents it and maintains healthy skin. "We basically want to make sure our barrier isn't dehydrated and flaky, which can lead to cracks in the skin and irritation."

So, what does that regimen typically entail? Here are a few things you can do to keep your skin as soft and smooth as possible.

1. Skip long, hot showers or baths

"Keep your showers short," suggests Dr. Zeichner. "We may like long, hot showers, but our skin doesn't. Keep showers to 10 minutes or less and use water around the same temperature as your heated pool would feel like in the summer." Dr. Stevenson recommends doing this by focusing on the essential areas. "Just use soap for the face, armpits, groin and feet, unless visibly soiled, and then pat dry," she says.

2. Avoid harsh, drying soaps

"True soaps have an alkaline pH and can damage the skin. Instead choose a non-soap cleanser which is more pH balanced to the skin and is non-irritating," says Dr. Zeichner. This means temporarily putting aside your favorite sweet-smelling body wash in favor of a fragrance-free alternative for sensitive skin. Dr. Zeichner recommends Dove Sensitive Skin Body Wash ($6), which contains the same types of hydrating ingredients found in traditional moisturizers, so it will cleanse without compromising the skin barrier.

3. Opt out of using retinol

"Retinol is a go-to antiaging ingredient that stimulates collagen to strengthen the skin and minimizes the appearance of wrinkles," says Dr. Zeichner. "However, it can cause skin irritation and dryness. Instead, look for bakuchiol. This botanical extract is referred to as a bio-retinoid. It has the same collagen stimulating benefits without causing irritation." Two products he recommends are iNNBeauty Project Slushy ($28), which combines bakuchiol along with plumping hyaluronic acid, or Rodan and Fields Redefine Overnight Restorative Cream ($90), which delivers bakuchiol in a hydrating cream with soothing niacinamide.

4. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize

Dr. Stevenson prefers creams with ceramides and squalenes (known as emollients), over traditional lotions with a pump, "which do not have as much moisture." "Ceramides are natural fats found in the outer skin layer that act like grout between the skin cells tiles," says Dr. Zeichner. "When ceramide levels decline, the skin barrier cannot protect itself as it should." Squalene is a naturally occurring oil in the body, but production slows down after the age of 30, so products with this ingredient contribute to rehydrating the skin, per the National Institutes of Health. An example of ceramide cream is Neogen Sur.Medic Super Ceramide 100 Renewal Cream ($34). "[This cream] contains ceramides along with hydrating hyaluronic acid and soothing tiger grass extract," says Dr. Zeichner. Dr. Stevenson also suggests using occlusive ointments (meaning they stay on the skin's surface) like petrolatum over these creams to seal them in.

5. Use hand sanitizer strategically

Additionally, many hands are drying out this season due to increased sanitation in the face of the pandemic, which is ironic because dry skin is actually more prone to picking up germs. To combat this extra dryness, experts from the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) recommend leaving some water on your hands after washing, and applying your moisturizer while your hands are still slightly damp. With sanitizer, you should apply the moisturizer after the hand sanitizer has dried. They also suggest working the moisturizer around your fingertips and nails, which often are overlooked.

6. Keep lip balm on hand

Lips are prone to dryness, and the AAD recommends choosing a lip balm carefully to not further irritate this sensitive skin. "If your lips sting or tingle after you apply the lip balm, switch to one that does not cause this reaction."

7. Try a humidifier

"Turn on a humidifier in your bedroom at night. The humidifier puts hydration into the air to prevent dryness while you sleep," says Dr. Zeichner. He recommends a cool-mist humidifier over a hot-steam one, as they tend to be safer.

8. Choose a mineral sunscreen

"Zinc oxide not only blocks UV light but also has a skin protecting benefit, which is why it is used in creams to prevent diaper rash in babies. If you are dry or sensitive look for a mineral based sunscreen like Solara Suncare Time Traveler ($42), an all-natural sunscreen that protects the skin from UV light and hydrates with skin repairing ceramides and squalene," says Dr. Zeichner.

9. Invest in pair of gloves

Per the AAD, our hands are often prime targets for dry skin because they are so frequently used. These experts suggest putting on gloves before going outdoors, getting your hands wet, or handling chemicals, greases, or other substances with your hands.

10. Wear gentle fabrics

Itchy wooly fabrics can cause further irritation to dry skin, so experts recommend choosing fabrics with natural fibers like cotton and silk, which allow your skin to breathe. It's also advisable to use detergents without dyes or perfumes which can lead to increased skin irritation.

If none of these steps provide relief, you may want to visit a dermatologist for a specified treatment plan.

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