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Say Good-bye to Dry Skin

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May 31, 2005
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Say Good-bye to Dry Skin
When cold weather hits, use these ultamoisturizing tips to fight the itch

Forget blizzard warnings: Winter should come with another weather advisory--drying conditions ahead. The main culprits are cold air, which holds less moisture than warm air, and low humidity and central heating, which make already dry air even drier. But winter also hits harder as you get older, partly because of changes in your body over which you have little control. The result: Your skin becomes rough, flaky, and itchy and your eyes, red and irritated. It's not just a matter of comfort or appearance. Dryness can also leave you vulnerable to a host of potentially dangerous infections and injuries (such as scratched corneas) and exacerbate existing problems (like eczema and psoriasis).

These simple tips for soothing skin and eyes can help you survive the season.

Quench Dry Skin

To stay hydrated, the skin pulls moisture out of the air--a problem in the winter, when humidity plummets. Making matters worse, production of skin's natural moisturizers dips with age, says Doris Day, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center. What's more, as skin turnover slows, the dry surface cells have a harder time sloughing off--hence the flakiness. The final insult: Some health conditions that become increasingly common as you get older (including diabetes, high blood pressure, and thyroid disorders) are associated with dryness.

Take short showers (no more than 10 minutes) and use warm water "Hot water might feel good on a cold morning, but it strips skin of its natural oils, leaving it dehydrated and itchy," says David Bank, MD, a dermatologist in Mount Kisco, NY.

Use creamy cleansers Opt for mild face and body washes--the milkier looking, the better. Steer clear of harsh detergents such as triclosan and ammonium lauryl sulfate; instead, check the label for gentle surfactants like sodium laureth sulfate and cocoamidopropyl betaine.

Slather on a rich moisturizer Postshower, pat skin dry and apply an oil-based cream instead of a lighter lotion to better trap and lock moisture into skin. To boost absorption, warm your jar of cream in a sink of hot water while you shower.

Moisturize again before bed. Hydrating skin at least twice a day is ideal--after a morning shower or bath and then right before turning in for the night. "There's a slight elevation in body temperature while you're sleeping, so products seep into skin better," says Bank.

Slip into gloves and socks at night Dampen hands and feet, slather on cream, and wear cotton gloves and socks for a few hours or to bed--they'll block evaporation and help the cream penetrate more effectively, says Day.

Keep Eyes Comfy

To stay moist, eyes need to be bathed in a healthy amount of tears.But whipping winds and overheated homes and offices can deplete your supply. Another cause: Tear production diminishes around age 40, says Marguerite McDonald, MD, a clinical professor of ophthalmology at New York University. Because of the hormonal changes of menopause, women are more prone to dry eyes. Certain medications, including hypertension drugs and cholesterol-lowering statins, can also contribute.*

Slow the evaporation of tears Minimize your eyes' exposure to dryness by boosting the humidity in your home, curbing your consumption of caffeine and alcohol (which can be dehydrating), and wearing wraparound sunglasses outside to protect eyes from the wind.

Replenish wetness For mild symptoms, artificial tears (available at drugstores) help lubricate eyes. If you're using artificial tears on a routine basis and aren't getting enough relief, ask your doctor about Restasis, Rx drops that increase tear production.

Eat omega-3 fatty acids There's mounting evidence that consuming omega-3 fats (found in fatty fish such as tuna and salmon, canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseed) decreases dryness. Not getting enough in your diet? Try supplements like Thera*Tears Nutrition omega-3 gel capsules ($14 for 90 capsules)

Sleep with a salve A bland, sterile ointment such as Refresh P.M. Lubricant Eye Ointment ($11; drugstores) helps boost lubrication. Caveat: Salves can blur vision, so use them only at bedtime.

Consider punctal plugs If dry eyes persist despite these measures, an ophthalmologist can insert tiny silicone plugs into your puncta, the openings of the tear ducts through which tears drain away. This simple office procedure helps keep tears in the eyes.