Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dry, Itchy, Flaky Skin

So... I realized today that I hadn't posted a blog in almost two months. That is totally unacceptable! I'm back with a vengeance. I thought it was an appropriate time to tackle the problem of dry skin. During the fall and winter months more people begin to experience the discomforts of dry skin. I'd like to discuss a few of the causes of dry skin and also some treatments. Let me warn you, some are unconventional and they go against a lot of what I've been doing to treat me own dry skin all these years, but they are all certainly worth a shot. After all, dry skin really sucks!

Unfortunately, some of us have a genetic predisposition for dry skin also known as xerosis. Others of us have dry skin as the result of external factors. Ideally, our skin is coated with a thin layer of natural lipids and fatty substances which are meant to help us retain moisture. Dry skin occurs when the sebaceous glands don't produce enough oil to protect our skin or when the oils are stripped from our skin by external factors. Those external factors could be dry air, harsh winds, abrasive bathing accessories like bath poofs and loofa sponges, harsh soaps and hot water. Regardless of the cause, the treatment options are generally the same. The following are tips to help soothe and eliminate your dry skin.

1. Avoid hot water and long showers or baths. Hot water strips the natural oils from the skin. It is better to shower in lukewarm water and keep it short. Shower for just 3 minutes to prevent loss of moisture. If you can't keep it short, make it long. After about 15 minutes your skin starts to retain moisture from the shower. You can tell your skin is absorbing the water by the appearance of your fingertips. If they are wrinkly, the water has made its way in.

2. Many of us really give ourselves a good scrub in the shower. I know I'm guilty of keeping a trusty bath poof hanging in the shower. I think they are great for exfoliation, but they may be causing more harm than good. Dry skin is much more sensitive than normal skin. A good comparison would be the difference between leaves in the spring and leaves in the fall. Spring leaves are smooth, pliable, flexible, not easily broken. Fall leaves, however, are brittle, dry, fragile and crumble easily. Dry skin is like fall leaves. So instead of scrubbing your dry skin, use a plush washcloth or another soft, luxurious bath accessory to massage your body. The soap does the cleaning, the massage will stimulate blood flow and oil production.

3. Avoid harsh soaps. We LOVE to see a good lather from our soap, body wash, or shower gel. Unfortunately, all those bubbles rinse away and take those precious natural oils with them. So, don't overdo it with the soap products. Whether you see a good lather or not, the soap will do its job. Unsavory, but true: Soap is really only a daily necessity for the "hot spots". The arms, legs and abdomen can really be well served by a good rinse daily--lather maybe once or twice a week. Have I done this? Yes and no. My son suffers from severe eczema. I use soap on him once a week. Every other day, he gets a quick soak in the tub. I think his skin thanks me for that. :-)

4. Immediately following the shower PAT dry. DO NOT RUB YOUR SKIN DRY. You want to leave your skin hydrated to improve the performance of the moisturizer you choose. For dry skin, the thicker the moisturizer the better. You want to use a heavy, highly emollient moisturizer to replenish the skin and have long term effects. Bonus tip: Use a "barrier" to lock in moisture. Good barriers are oil based products that may also be considered ointments. A popular and effective barrier product is Aquafor. A less common, yet more effective barrier product is Crisco Vegetable Shortening. Yes, I am recommending cooking oil for your skin! That's just another trick I picked up caring for my son's skin. It does an excellent job of keeping the skin moisturized, soft and supple.

5. In the cold winter months, a little extra coverage could go a long way in protecting your skin from the elements. Of course you want to wear coats, hats, scarves, gloves etc. But, your legs could benefit from a little extra coverage too. Opt for those unsightly tall tube socks that men wear. They will keep your legs protected from the cold air which can creep up your pants legs. I personally love the tall socks. True, they're ugly, but they are warm and they keep your legs from sweating in your knee boots. ;-)

6. Changes in your diet could also have a positive impact on the condition of your skin. Drink plenty of water. Half your body weight in ounces is the recommended daily amount. So if you're 100 lbs, you need to drink atleast 50 oz of water a day. Avoid alcohol and caffeine which cause the body to eliminate water. Eat foods that are rich in vitamins and essential fatty acids. That means plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables and fatty fish like salmon. Flax seed oil is also a great source of essential fatty acids.

Dry, flaky skin is not glamorous by any stretch of the imagination. Take care of your skin, it will thank you for it.


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