Dry skin is a common problem that worsens when your environmental humidity is low. The clinical name is xerosis or asteoatosis, but some simply refer to it as winter itch. It is most often seen on your hands, legs and arms, but can occur on your back and abdomen as well. Non-greasy lotions work best when your skin is not too dry.
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Dry skin is unattractive and uncomfortable. It is itchy and can interfere with your sleep at night. If you scratch repeatedly you can create areas of red, thick skin called lichenification. Scratching can also damage your skin resulting is bleeding cracks or fissures that leave your skin vulnerable to bacterial infections. If your skin is red, dry, cracked, bleeding or has yellow crusts or pus, it is important to see your health care provider. Knowing how to treat your dry skin depends on its cause.
When your skin is dry it would seem to make sense to just add water, but in reality hot soapy water actually removes the protective oils from your skin. Reducing the time spent in the shower to no more than 10 minutes, using mild soap and gently patting your skin dry can help your dry skin condition. According to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the moisturizer that feels light and non-oily on your skin actually does not replace your protective skin lipids as well as its heavy-duty cousins.
Lotion moisturizers are made of chemical oils, water and alcohol. Lotions can actually dry your skin because of the alcohol content, and they generally are not as effective as other types of moisturizers.
The emollients in moisturizers that give them an oily feeling actually fill in the spaces between the cells in the skin. This helps to rebuild your natural lipids. Lotions use water-based emollients, which result in a less-greasy feel. This makes them popular, and your favorite lotion may smell divine but the perfume it contains can also dry your skin. If you are very dry, your best over-the-counter bet is a cream or ointment product, which CNN Health suggests has the most staying power and can trap moisture in your skin.
Ointments, Oils and Creams
Oils can leave a greasy feeling on your skin but protect very well. Use a small amount and rub it in well. Products such as baby oil, mineral oil and bath oils are examples of oil-based emollients. Spray damp skin lightly with bath oil following your shower rather than adding it to your bath tub. Oily water is slippery; it can result in dangerous falls.
Cream moisturizers can contain oil- or water-based emollients. You will be able to determine the emollient type by the way it is absorbed by your skin. If a slight residue is left, it is probably oil-based and actually protects your skin better than water-based products.
The American Academy of Dermatology suggest using petroleum jelly as a heavy-duty skin moisturizer. It is an inexpensive, ointment-type moisturizer that is useful on the hands, feet, lips and elbows if your skin is dry and cracked. Ointments are oil-based emollients that will feel greasy but it they are used sparingly and rubbed in well, they provide protection against dry skin.
There are moisturizers available by prescription only used to treat dermatitis and eczema. These products are non-steroid based creams that act as skin barriers. Once applied, they prevent your skin from loosing moisture. In addition, they are non-greasy and easily absorbed. These products are used to treat very dry skin as well skin burns following radiation therapy. If over-the-counter, fragrance-free products are not working, see your health care provider to determine if a prescription product is right for you.