As far as medical conditions go, dry skin isn't usually a big deal. If you have a severe case, however, it can take the form of a maddening itch or may make you feel as though your skin is beset by hundreds of hungry fleas [source: WebMD].
Xerosis, the medical term for dry skin, begins as a loss of moisture in the stratum corneum, which is the uppermost layer of your skin. The stratum corneum is composed of hardened, dry, dead skin cells that act as a barrier between the underlying layers of your skin's living tissue and the outside world. It relies on sebaceous glands to secrete sebum, the natural oil that lubricates and moisturizes the epidermis, which is your skin's visible layer. The trouble is that sebum is pretty fragile stuff and is easily stripped away by many of the activities we do on a regular basis, such as bathing and using indoor heat [source: Dermasil Labs].
The stratum corneum has no ability to retain moisture, so once the oil that coats and protects it is gone, it's pretty easy for your skin to start drying out. Soon, entire portions of your epidermis may be dry, itchy or inflamed and may even crack or peel, and the only remedy is to rehydrate the afflicted area.
To help you permanently scratch xerosis' troublesome itch, we're providing you with 10 great tips for moisturizing dry skin. Next, learn why your dry skin might go away if you stop taking showers.
Get Out of the Bath!
If you suffer from habitually dry skin, one of the best skin moisturizing tips we can give you is to stop bathing. Not entirely, of course, but enough to let your sebaceous glands replenish your skin's natural layer of oil that's stripped away during washing. Both hot water and regular soap rob your body of its moisturizing oil, so basically, the more you bathe, the harder it is for your skin to keep itself moisturized. Cutting back a daily bathing regimen to three or four times a week should do the trick for most people, though those with severe xerosis might want to consider visiting the tub only once every seven days [source: Dermasil Labs].
If this sounds too extreme, try using warm water instead of hot when washing, and limit your bathing time to 15 minutes or less. Also, use soap only on the critical areas -- namely the armpits and genitals -- and use cleansers like Cetaphil or Aveeno on the rest of your body. Following these steps will help you retain some of your skin's oils, though it won't be as effective as forgoing the bath altogether.
Find the Right Moisturizer for Your Skin Type
There are dozens -- maybe even hundreds -- of skin moisturizing products lining the shelves of your local store, each touting a unique set of assurances and benefits. Thankfully, you don't need an advanced degree in dermatology to find a skin care product that works for you. You just need to know a few things about two types of moisturizers: occlusive and humectant.
Occlusive moisturizers prevent water from leaving the stratum corneum by acting as a waterproof film that covers your skin. Because they're typically made up of oil-rich ingredients, such as petroleum, various mineral oils or silicone, these moisturizers may clog pores, irritate the skin and cause breakouts [source: Skin&Aging]. Therefore, occlusive moisturizers don't work very well for people with sensitive or oily skin. For everyone else, however, they offer an effective way to retard your skin's natural water loss.
Humectant moisturizers are great for those of us with habitually dry skin or for people whose skin is oily, as they're water-based and contain very few oils. Humectants work by absorbing and retaining water from the air and lower layers of your epidermis. Because they add moisture instead of just trapping the water that's already there, humectant moisturizers help prevent dry skin from cracking by increasing its natural pliability and flexibility. If you're looking for a humectant moisturizer, check for ingredients such as glycerin, lactic acid, sorbitol and alpha hydroxyl acids [source: Downie and Cook-Bolden].
Know When to Moisturize
Once you've found a skin moisturizing product that works, you should decide how often you'd like to use it. Although there's never a bad time to moisturize, there are periods throughout the day that are more beneficial than others.
If you're only going to use a moisturizer once a day, make sure you do so after you get out of the bath or shower. Pat yourself dry with a towel, but apply the moisturizer while your skin is still slightly damp. This will help your epidermis retain the extra water, especially if your moisturizer has an occlusive agent in it.
If you've got a bit more time for skin care, try applying a moisturizer before turning in for the night. You'll definitely be able to feel the difference in the morning.
It's also a great idea to carry a little pocket bottle of moisturizer with you. That way, you can hit any trouble spots throughout the day and keep you skin looking healthy and smooth at all times. Remember, dry skin is exactly what it sounds like -- dry. If you keep your epidermis properly hydrated, you won't have to worry about dry skin.
Use a Humidifier
Dry skin can be very problematic in cold weather. Between the general lack of humidity and the parching effect that heated, indoor air can have on your skin, the winter itch -- which is really just xerosis -- is a common problem [source: Skinsight]. Although establishing a daily skin moisturizing regimen is critical to winning the war against xerosis, humidifiers offer an alternative solution to fighting dry skin.
Humidifiers do exactly as their name implies -- they add moisture to the air. That might not sound like such a big deal, but it can be a huge benefit to people suffering from xerosis during the dry winter months.
Think of your skin as a sponge. It has the ability to absorb extra water when the air is humid, but skin will dry up and shrink when moisture is lacking. When you add moisture to the air with a humidifier, your skin is able to expand and keep itself hydrated. Humidifiers are available in a variety of sizes and price ranges, so if you're constantly scratching away at itchy winter skin, it might not be a bad idea to invest in one.
Nature vs. Chemicals
When it comes to moisturizing dry skin, most people assume that a natural or organic label means a better product. The truth is, however, people with sensitive skin often see better results and less irritation with mass-produced, chemical-laden skin care products. Natural skin moisturizing options often include perishable foodstuffs and botanicals that have limited shelf-lives and can cause allergic reactions. In fact, many of these products can be rougher on the epidermis than their chemical counterparts and may make an existing xerosis problem worse. Natural ingredients often contain harsh, undiluted acids that can wreck havoc on the skin, while chemical formulations are backed by extensive research and testing [source: Cosgrave et al.].
Of course, there are also plenty of harsh chemical-based skin moisturizers out there, and, regardless of research, some of the stuff that goes into moisturizers and other skin care products simply isn't good for you. Many of the common chemical ingredients, such as phenol/carbolic acid (a clear, sweet-smelling liquid derived from coal tar) can even be toxic [source: Skincare].
If you have sensitive skin and want to use an all-natural skin moisturizing product to clear up your xerosis, try looking for one that labels itself as gentle. If you have allergies, make sure you check the list of ingredients before applying it to your skin. If you'd rather go the chemical route, try to familiarize yourself with ingredients to look out for. It's important to remember that not all chemicals are bad, and if you can avoid the particularly troublesome ones, such as phenol, you should be fine.
Taking Care of the Eyes, Neck and Décolleté
Although many women use a daily moisturizer on their face, arms and hands, they often neglect the regions that need it most, namely, the skin around the eyes, neck and décolleté (cleavage and bust). The skin in these areas is thinner and more sensitive than most other parts of the body, and because these are little to no sebaceous glands in these areas, they tend to dry out easily and need to be moisturized just as much as -- if not more than -- the rest of your person. In fact, besides preventing dry skin, applying a daily skin moisturizing product to the area around the eyes, neck and décolleté will help prevent wrinkles, discolored skin and other signs of aging [source: HealthWatch].
Anyone who's had a sunburn knows how the sun can wreck havoc on your skin, but are you aware that sunlight may also be slowly drying out your epidermis? Exposure to the sun's rays may cause your skin to lose its moisture and natural lubricating oils, which, in turn, can lead to xerosis and premature wrinkles, even in young adults [source: Harvard Medical School].
There's an easy way to counteract those pesky ultraviolet (UV) rays, even for the most ardent sun worshippers. All you need to do is use a skin moisturizing product with sunblock in it -- something as low as SPF 15 should do the trick for most people, unless you plan to be in the sun for an extended period of time [source: Leffell].
Even when sunlight is dim or obscured, it can damage the skin, so adding a light sunscreen to your daily moisturizer can have huge long-term benefits for the health and appearance of your epidermis. Plus, if you already use a daily moisturizer but xerosis is still a frequent problem for you, adding a sunblock into the mix might help you permanently smooth out your dry skin.
Moisturizing Through Exfoliation
When we're young, the stratum corneum naturally replaces itself about once every two weeks [source: MySkinCareConnection]. As we age, this process slows down, and the dead skin cells that largely make up this top layer of our epidermis tend to stick around a bit longer. With dry skin, the problem is amplified further, as the dead skin cells continue to build up and can give your skin a flaky, ashen or even scaly appearance.
When you exfoliate, you're basically tearing off the stratum corneum. However, xerosis goes deeper than your skin's leading layer, and even if you use an exfoliant that provides skin moisturizing benefits, your dry skin problem won't be solved instantly.
Exfoliation is, however, a great place to start. By stripping away the stratum corneum, you'll improve your skin's texture and allow moisturizers direct access to living skin. The moisturizing elements contained in the exfoliant will have a much more dramatic effect when they're not blocked by piles of dead skin cells, and as long as you stick to a daily moisturizing regimen, you should start seeing -- and feeling -- a difference almost immediately.
Like the Terminator, your stratum corneum will be back, but exfoliation isn't something you can do every day. It's a harsh process, and even people with extreme cases of xerosis shouldn't exfoliate more than once a week [source: Dermaxime].
Aromatherapy is the process of treating various ailments with the scents of natural plants. Taking a whiff of chamomile, for instance, is reputed to help you fight depression, and inhaling the bottled fragrance of a cypress tree can help lower your blood pressure. Aromatherapy has been around for thousands of years, and there are countless fragrant concoctions that you can breathe in for a multitude of purposes.
For some ailments, such as xerosis, it's better to actually rub the fragrant oils into your skin. Anti-aging essences, such as rose, rosemary and geranium, work wonders when massaged into dry skin. Peppermint can help increase the output of sebum and carrot seed and helichrysum both ease the irritation and inflammation that comes with xerosis. Applying chamomile and lavender to your epidermis will not only help ease your symptoms, they will help prevent your skin from shedding off in embarrassing flakes [source: Keville and Green].
If you want to enhance the topical effects of aromatherapeutic oils even further, try mixing them into a pure cream or lotion. It's like making your own ointment that combines the benefits of occlusive and humectant moisturizers. The water contained in the cream or lotion helps moisturize and soothe your epidermis, and the scented oils act as a waterproof barrier that ensures all of the moisture and healing ingredients contained in your homemade remedy are absorbed into your skin.
Perhaps the most important skin moisturizing tip we can give you is to know and trust yourself. Everyone's body is different, and no set of tips is comprehensive or applicable to all people. If your skin is less dry when you're using natural skin care products, ditch the chemicals and go organic. If your xerosis feels better when you cut out a few baths per week, don't bathe every day. While it's generally recommended to stick to a daily moisturizing regimen, your skin won't shrivel up if you only apply a moisturizer when you feel like it or whenever your skin feels dry. Failing to use a moisturizer won't even cause wrinkles [source: Cosgrave]. You're the one who has to be comfortable in your skin, so figure out what works for you and disregard everything else.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
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