- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 11, 2001

Really dry skin is more than just unsightly and uncomfortable. According to the American Academy of Dermatologists (AAD), severely dry skin is less effective at providing a barrier against infection. Splits in the skin can create a greater chance for infection to take hold.

"I tell my patients to visualize the skin as a brick wall," says dermatologist Dr. Michelle Rivera, on staff at Arlington Hospital. If there is a defect in the "cement" that holds the skin together, she explains, cracks may appear. "The chemicals go into the skin and water escapes, which is why it is dry and itchy. Your job is to seal the cracks and restore the barrier function of the skin. The way to do that is to keep it hydrated and moist."

Heavy clothing and longer, hotter showers work to strip the skin of moisture. The result: itchy or painful dry skin and raw, chapped lips.

Dermatologists recommend giving skin care a high priority during the winter months for maximum comfort and health.

"Dry skin is a major winter problem especially this winter, since it has been so cold," Dr. Rivera says. "But people should not think of dry skin as a cosmetic problem, which most people do."

Older people have more at stake, she says, because skin thins with age. But young or old, "you always need to do some kind of routine skin care, just like brushing your teeth," she says.

The most basic approach to skin care is to apply moisturizing lotion over the entire body, every day. Dr. Rivera says that the best time to moisturize is just after bathing, while the skin still is wet, "because the moisturizer traps the water in the skin and seals the cracks. And timing is more critical than type of lotion; a good, basic lotion is fine."

The AAD also recommends the following for winter skin care:

• Bathe or shower in lukewarm water, as hot water removes natural oil from the skin.

• Do not overuse products containing alpha-hydroxy acids. They exfoliate the top layer of the skin but leave the new layer unprotected.

• Use a lip balm with an SPF to help prevent chapped lips.

• Try to avoid deodorant soaps, as they can be more drying.

• Shave using lotion or hair conditioner instead of shaving foam.

• Apply petroleum jelly to problem areas to seal in moisture and heal very dry skin.

• Use a humidifier to boost the humidity in the home during the winter.

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