A healthy diet should be your first defense against dehydration. "Drink at least six big glasses of water per day, and load up on foods that are rich in essential fatty acids like olive oil, salmon, almonds, whole grains, eggs, and spinach," says Mona Gohara, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine.
It might be cold outside, but cranking the thermostat won't help your winter skin. "Pumping up the heat in your house can leave you dry and flaky," Gohara says. Instead, keep the thermostat on the low side and bundle up with blankets at night. "And if you haven't already, invest in a humidifier, at least for your bedroom," suggests Chicago dermatologist Carolyn Jacob, M.D. (Your skin will thank you, and that nagging congestion might clear up, too.)
For most of us, moisturizing is something we do after a shower, but you'll stay even softer if you do it before stepping into the spray. From the neck down, smooth on an oil (try coconut or jojoba, found at health food stores), which will seal in moisture as it heats up without washing off like a lotion or cream.
Gohara puts it best: "Steamy showers are good for the soul and bad for the skin." Hot temperatures open pores and strip skin's protective oils. Dial down the heat to a bit above lukewarm. (And when a long, hot shower is a must, slather on a thick moisturizer, pronto.)
Exfoliating is crucial. "As dead skin cells build up on the surface, they prevent the good stuff -- moisturizers, in this case -- from getting in," Gohara says. But that doesn't mean you need a sandblaster. Rather than attacking your epidermis with a rough loofah or gritty scrub, gently slough with a soft cotton baby washcloth topped with a dollop of moisturizing body wash.
"Look for a body cleanser that contains at least one moisturizing all-star," advises Yolanda Holmes, M.D., a Washington, D.C., dermatologist. "That means one of these: ceramides, dimethicone, fatty acids, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, petrolatum, or mineral oil." And stick to the gentler category of soap-free cleansers, which tend to have key phrases like "nonsoap" or "neutral pH" right on the label.
As soon as you step out of the shower, start patting (not rubbing) yourself dry with a towel. What's the difference? "Rubbing gets rid of nearly all the water on your skin, whereas patting sops up only some of it," Gohara says. The dampness left on your body will help the moisturizer you're about to slather on (don't wait more than three minutes after stepping out) seep even deeper into your skin.
To the layperson, "lotion" and "cream" are interchangeable, but actually creams typically contain equal parts oil and water and come in a tub. Lotions come in a bottle and have more water -- making them easier for skin to absorb. Takeaway: "Use a cream if you're very dry, but stick with a lotion if you have oily or combination skin," Gohara says.
Remember those super moisturizing body wash ingredients? Well that goes double for moisturizers. Don't shell out for any lotion or cream unless it contains at least one of those. Also: "Avoid anything that contains fragrances, which can be extremely drying," Holmes says.
Feeling frustrated that your parched skin isn't responding to daily TLC? You might have eczema, a common condition that often requires a trip to the doctor for treatment. We asked dermatologist Yolanda Holmes to break it down.
What is eczema? Eczema is scaly pink patches that itch like crazy and can appear anywhere on the body, including the face.
Who's at risk for eczema? People suffering from extremely dry skin, asthma, or seasonal allergies, as well as sensitive types who may get rashes from using products containing fragrances or other chemical irritants.
How do I treat eczema? An over-the-counter eczema relief product is a great first step. They typically contain ingredients like oatmeal, which can soothe and calm irritation, and ceramides, which strengthen the barrier of your skin. If that doesn't do the trick, talk to your dermatologist about prescription options. Topical steroids are the most common course of treatment; more severe cases might require oral steroids.