10 Tips for Softer, Smoother Skin

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Published: July 2, 2014


Dry skin (medical term – xerosis) can be unattractive and uncomfortable, but can usually be alleviated by managing environmental factors, like humidity and bathing. The signs and symptoms of dry skin vary with age and health. Skin feels tight after showering or bathing. It can look rough, reddened, or gray and ashy, with cracks or fine lines. Dry skin is most severe on the arms and lower legs. Itching can be mild or severe. These are the top 10 causes or risk factors for dry skin:

1. Age – Skin naturally becomes drier and thinner with aging. It may be due to changes in the way the body makes collagen, one of the major components of skin. By age 40, many people need moisturizers.

2.  Climate – Dry skin is worse when the climate or season is one with little moisture in the air, such as during the harmattan season.

3. Indoor heat – Central heating, space heaters, fireplaces and wood-burning stoves are all drying.

4. Family history – Dry skin runs in families, passed genetically from one generation to the next.

5. Harsh cleansers – These pull moisture out of the skin; the most damaging are soaps labeled as containing a deodorant, and antibacterial soaps. Some shampoos dry the scalp.

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6. Sun exposure – Sun doesn’t just dry skin; its ultraviolet (UV) light rays do their worst damage to the skin’s innermost layer – worsening sagging and deepening wrinkles.

7. Hot baths and showers – These are very drying, washing away more of the natural oils and moisture than warm or tepid water. Heavily chlorinated water in swimming pools will dry skin.

8. Other skin conditions – Skin conditions, such as eczema (atopic dermatitis) and psoriasis, risk factors for dry skin.

9. Occupation – Jobs that require immersing the skin in water,  or frequent hand washing, such as nursing or hairdressing, can develop severe xerosis, with raw, cracked hands.

10. Skin products – Alcohol, fragrance, retinoids, or alpha-hydroxy acids are drying, even if the products are labeled as moisturizers.

10 ways to Prevent and Treat Dry Skin

1. Don’t use hot water on your skin. It removes natural oils quicker than warm water. Limit baths or showers to 10 minutes.

2. Shave after bathing or showering. Apply a moisturizing shaving cream or gel, let it soften the skin for three minutes, then shave.

3. Use gentle soaps without dyes and perfumes. Avoid soaps labeled as containing a deodorant and antibacterial cleansers. Gentler brands include the Dove or Neutrogena line of cleansers and other skin care products.

4. Moisturize right after a shower or bath while skin is still damp. Gently pat dry with a soft towel. Use a product with petroleum or lanolin.

5. Apply moisturizer 3-4 times daily. Effective brands include Eucerin and Lubriderm.

6. Avoid skin products that contain alcohol, fragrance, retinoids, or alpha-hydroxy acid.

7. Wear gloves to perform tasks that require getting your hands wet, or that get chemicals, greases, and other substances on your hands. Food-service and health care workers are prone to severe irritation and dry skin of their hands.

8. Apply cool, moist cloths to dry, itchy skin. You can use a cool-mist vaporizer in your home.

9. Cover as much skin outdoors in cold weather as possible. Wear gloves, a hat, or a scarf, in addition to your outerwear.

10. Choose fabrics that are soft, smooth and nonirritating. Cotton and silk are natural fibers and gentle on skin. Wool is irritating. Use laundry detergents without dyes or perfumes.

Skin is an effective barrier against infection. Severe dry skin may crack, breaking the protective barrier, and may need monitoring by a physician.

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About Faith A. Coleman, MD

Dr. Coleman is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, and holds a BA in journalism from UNM. She completed her family practice residency at Wm. Beaumont Hospital, Troy and Royal Oak, MI, consistently ranked among the United States Top 100 Hospitals by US News and World Report. Her experience includes faculty appointments to a family practice residency and three medical schools, as well as Director of Women's and Children's Health Promotion Programs with the NE Texas Public Health District.

Dr. Coleman is the Expert on Gifted Children for the New York Times, parenting writer for Demand Media Studios, as well as health and medical writer for several online information services. She writes professional management material for health care providers and about the personal experience of being a physician. Faith treasures most the role of mother. Her passions include the well-being and education of children and families. She doesn't tweet, but welcomes email: facoleman8889@yahoo.com.

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