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We speak to a skin-care professional about how to treat a parched complexion.
Preserving glowing, flake-free skin can be difficult at the best of times. In wintertime, when the harsh elements lead to skin-cell breakdown and shorter days mean less patience for skin care, it can seem almost impossible. But trust us: Dry skin needs an effective treatment regimen, especially during the winter.
We spoke to Dr. Nowell Solish, cosmetic dermatologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, for insight into how dry skin operates, what ingredients you should embrace and avoid, and which treatments will faithfully work year after year.
How does dry skin occur?
“Our skin has natural oils and a barrier of protection,” says Dr. Solish. “If we’re in an environment that causes our skin to evaporate more water, or the surrounding temperature is cold and dry and the humidity is low, our skin will get drier.” Moving between a warm interior and the cold exterior aggravates skin, causing it to dry out more during the wintertime. Irritating detergents can also lead to dry skin.
Who is prone to dry skin?
According to Dr. Solish, the oilier you are, the less parched your face will get during the winter months. Age is also a factor. While teenagers have high hormone levels that lead to oily skin, postmenopausal women see a drop in hormone levels, causing oil glands to shrink and resulting in less sebum production.
What body parts experience the worst dry skin?
Commonly, the arms or the tops of the hands tend to easily become dry, but this varies as everyone’s skin has different abilities to absorb moisture and adapt to climate changes.
How can we prevent dry skin?
The most effective method is staying hydrated, so drink a lot of water throughout the day.
The next step is to select an appropriate moisturizer. “A moisturizer itself is a barrier,” says Dr. Solish. “It stops water from evaporating out of the skin. The best ones actually grab water and try to bring water into the skin.”
Keep in mind that facials are simply a temporary solution to a problem that has the tendency to reoccur. “Skin looks better and younger after a facial, but the effect is temporary because you’ve added moisture to that area.”
Certain fabrics against the skin can also affect skin moisture levels. Ideally, wear cotton or sweat-wicking fabrics to allow the skin to breathe. Avoid polyester, which can increase sweat buildup, which can cause irritated skin.
What products combat dry skin?
Look for soapless cleansers, such as Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser, that won’t strip your skin of its natural oils. Avoid acne cleansers for this reason; effective as they are in treating acne, they will dry out your skin faster. “They have salicylic acids that help break up the skin because they’re treating the acne,” says Dr. Solish. “But they’re very drying.”
When it comes to choosing the right moisturizer, a thick cream contains the most oil and will also be the most hydrating. However, some people will break out when using cream that contains too much oil. To determine how much oil your moisturizer contains, apply a small amount of the product to your skin and pay attention to how your body reacts. If the skin becomes warm, there’s a lot of oil in the moisturizer; if the area feels cool and refreshing, the moisturizer contains a lot of water and not much oil.
When choosing a cream, look for ingredients such as ceramides, natural lipids that help to build up the skin’s barrier that can be broken down by unforgiving weather or lactic acid.
When does dry skin turn into something more serious?
If you still find that you’re experiencing itchy, red or irritable skin after testing several moisturizers, you may be developing eczema. Consult your doctor who can prescribe a topical steroid.
What products can treat a dry scalp?
To treat pesky dandruff, which is so prevalent during the colder season, your best option is to use a specially formulated shampoo that exfoliates dry skin on the scalp. “Dandruff itself is not always due to dry skin,” says Dr. Solish. “It can be due to a naturally occurring yeast buildup on the skin, so a lot of dandruff shampoos contain ingredients to kill the yeast that is making your scalp flaky.”
If worst comes to worst, apply a leave-in oil treatment at night and shampoo it out the following morning. Look for leave-in treatments, or even nourishing hair masks, made of natural oils such as coconut or olive.
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