Dry Skin Care Treatment Tips

Itchy, dry skin, also known as xerosis, is a distraction we can all do without. It’s uncomfortable and the cracked, flaky, red skin can be unattractive. If you scratch a lot, bacteria can invade those cracks and then you might even develop an infection.

The good news: You can manage dry skin even if you can’t control the environmental conditions that cause it, such as cold weather or central heating.

Skin Care for Dry Skin

First, cut back on washing. “Overwashing, particularly long, hot showers, is the number one reason for dry skin,” says Bruce Robinson, MD, Manhattan-based dermatologist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

His recommendations for people with dry skin? “Decrease their frequency of bathing, use a mild soap, and don’t soap the whole body every day. And, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.”

With so many different types of moisturizers available, finding the right one for your needs can be a challenge — should you choose a lotion, a cream, or an ointment?

Dermatologist Susan C. Taylor, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in New York, recommends moisturizers that contain ceramides, natural lipid molecules that contain fatty acids. “Ceramides have a natural moisturizing factor. If you add ceramide to lotions and cleansers, you replace them in the skin. That’s the newest twist on moisturizers,” she explains.

Besides looking for a moisturizer that contains ceramides, Dr. Taylor, who is also a spokesperson for the AAD, says it’s wise to choose an ointment or cream over lotion. In fact, good old-fashioned petrolatum (petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline and similar store brands) can be the most effective choice.

“The oils in petrolatum trap moisture in the skin and provide a barrier from the outside environment,” Taylor says. “As long as you’re not acne-prone, I don’t have a problem with using petrolatum.”

Dry Skin Care in Winter

It can be particularly difficult to maintain soft, pliant skin in colder weather. Take these steps to keep your skin in good shape during the winter:

  • Take brief, lukewarm showers or baths. Pat dry and then immediately apply moisturizer.
  • Try using a humidifier to relieve the dryness in the air. Be sure to clean it regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid mold.
  • Protect your skin from the elements. Shield yourself from extreme cold and wind with layered clothing, hats, gloves, and warm shoes. Don’t forget to use petrolatum-based lip balm to avoid chapped lips.
  • Always use sunscreen. Regardless of the season or the weather, exposure to the sun can lead to not only dry skin, but also early aging and skin cancer.
  • Apply moisturizer several times a day if needed. Older adults need to pay even more attention to their skin to keep it supple, attractive, and comfortable. As part of the normal aging process, our skin tends to lose some natural oils, making us dryer, according to Taylor. “Make sure you apply a moisturizer several times a day, particularly as you mature,” she says.

How to treat for acne

If you have acne, you’re among more than 70 million people in the United States who have suffered from this skin condition at some time in their lives. It is so common that acne affects about 80 percent of Americans 20 to 30 years old. During the teenage years, acne is more common in boys than in girls, but in adults it’s more common in women.

Despite the fact that it’s so commonplace, there are many misconceptions about acne, says Guy Webster, MD, PhD, a clinical professor of dermatology at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and founder of the American Acne and Rosacea Society.

Whether you call it acne, pimples, or zits, in order to treat the condition, it’s important to understand the causes:

  • Clogged pores and bacteria: In your teens, the glands in the skin begin secreting sebum, an oily substance. This normally comes out through the pores, but in some people, sebum clogs up in the pores, allowing a bacterium, called P. acnes, to begin to grow.
  • Hormones: In your teen years, hormones start changing and affecting your body, including causing acne. This also happens during pregnancy, which explains why pregnant women or women having their periods often have acne breakouts. Hormones released during stressful times can also cause acne.
  • Genetics: You may be more likely to develop acne if your parents had acne when they were younger.

The Right Acne Treatment

There are many ways to take care of acne, depending on what causes it and how bad it is. Moderate and severe acne usually needs acne treatment recommended by a doctor, but mild acne, blackheads, whiteheads, and a few pimples can usually be treated at home.

Dr. Webster says one big misconception is that acne is caused by dirty skin. “The goal is not to scrub acne away,” he says. “If you scrub, you’re taking off skin, and there’s a reason for the skin being there.” Skin is a protective barrier.

Here are some tips that Webster shares with people who have acne:

  • Wash gently; don’t scrub.
  • Use a gentle soap to wash your face.
  • Wash with your hands, not a washcloth or “scrubby.”
  • Use a 5 percent benzoyl peroxide product.
  • Treat your whole face — don’t “spot treat.” This way, you’re treating pimples still under the skin but not yet visible.

And what should you stay away from?

  • Facial scrubs of any kind.
  • “Face puffs” or abrasive pads.
  • Expensive cosmetic regimens that people try to sell you.

Acne Treatment: Other Tips

Other tips to keep acne from getting worse:

  • If you’re a male, be careful shaving.
  • Don’t pick or scratch at pimples.
  • Avoid the sun. While many people feel that sun exposure makes their acne better, this is not always so. The rays can also cause other unwanted issues, such as premature aging and skin cancer.

Skin Care Products For More Beauty

In today’s world of eco-conscious living, being good to the environment is a high priority, whether you’re buying light bulbs or a cream for dry skin and wrinkles. And cosmetics companies take advantage of that by offering natural skin care products with ingredients that are touted as being better for your skin and environmentally friendly.

“Natural skin care is more of a marketing term than a scientific one,” says Dee Anna Glaser, MD, a dermatologist and professor of dermatology at St. Louis University and president of the Cosmetic Surgery Foundation.

Related: 10 Foods for Healthier Skin

“Products that have botanical ingredients that come from plants or nature — think honey or beeswax — tend to be labeled as natural,”’ says Dr. Glaser. They may or may not have the same ingredients that other products do. And you can find them everywhere, from drugstores to department store makeup counters to boutiques and even at dermatologists’ and plastic surgeons’ offices. In fact, so-called natural skin care products are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to tell whether they’re any better for you than other products.

“‘Natural’ really doesn’t tell you anything,” Glaser says. “It’s a way of marketing [a product] to make you feel good about its use when people are trying to be green and think environmentally.”

In some cases, natural skin care products may be the way to go, but not always. “Poison ivy is natural, but that doesn’t mean you want to rub it against your skin,” Glaser says.

The Benefits of Natural Skin Care Products

There are some ingredients in natural products that are soothing and calming to the skin, even if your skin is sensitive. Glaser notes the benefits of these ingredients:

  • Soy. Products that contain soy can soothe the skin while fading dark discolorations.
  • Feverfew. This herb can calm irritated, dry skin that’s prone to eczema.
  • Antioxidants. Vitamins C and E have real benefits for the skin. They scavenge for free radicals, which damage cell DNA, leading to wrinkles and skin aging. Unfortunately, many over-the-counter products don’t have a high enough concentration of antioxidants for them to be effective. But you can buy products such as CE Ferulic (which contains vitamins C and E) and Revaléskin (made from coffeeBerry extract) from a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon, Glazer says.

Natural Skin Care Concerns

Sometimes natural skin care products aren’t the best choice when you’re shopping for a moisturizer for dry skin or a cream to treat your wrinkles, Glaser says. Among the drawbacks are:

  • Sensitive skin irritation. Your skin type should dictate the type of products you can use, Glaser says. Someone with rosacea or sensitive skin — and about half of all women think they have sensitive skin — can be irritated by alpha hydroxy acid and glycolic acid, which are natural ingredients.
  • Allergic reaction. Allergens in natural skin care products can cause problems for some people.
  • Breakouts. Someone who’s acne-prone may not be able to tolerate natural lotions that contain oils because they may clog pores and lead to breakouts.

Beauty Glossary Tips

Acne conglobata: Type of acne in which interconnected nodules are located beneath the surface of the skin.

Acne mechanica: Acne caused by exposure to heat, covered skin, pressure, or repetitive friction.

Acne vulgaris: The most common type of acne, associated with blackheads, whiteheads, papules, and pustules, commonly referred to as pimples or zits.

Actinic keratoses: Precancerous growths that can appear red, thick, and rough; usually found on sun-damaged skin.

Age spots: Flat, brownish patches on the skin caused by sun exposure and perhaps aging; also known as “liver spots.”

Alopecia: Unusual hair loss, most often on the scalp.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs): Exfoliating ingredients derived from fruit and milk sugars and used to help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and age spots.

Antioxidants: Vitamins A (including beta carotene), C, and E, thought to repair and protect skin cells by neutralizing damaging free radicals.

Atopic: When an antibody present in the skin makes someone more likely to experience allergic reactions.

Basal cell carcinoma: Type of skin cancer that forms at the base of the epidermis of the skin and usually does not spread to other parts of the body; associated with long-term overexposure to the sun.

Benzoyl peroxide: Topical acne treatment that kills acne-causing bacteria.

Blackhead: A clogged pore usually filled with hardened oil and dead skin cells; the tip is visible at the pore opening.

Blepharoplasty: Cosmetic procedure to remove excess fat and skin from around the eyes.

Chemical peel: Chemical solution applied to the skin to remove damaged outer layers.

Dermabrasion: Procedure in which a rotating brush is used to abrade, or remove, the outer surface of the skin.

Dermatitis: Inflammation of the skin.

Dermis: The middle layer of the skin.

Eczema: Inflammatory response in the skin that can lead to redness, itching, and scaling.

Epidermis: The outer layer of the skin.

Exfoliate: To slough off the outer layer of skin cells.

Follicle: A shaft in the skin through which hair grows.

Isotretinoin (Accutane and other brand names): Oral vitamin A-based medication used to treat severe acne.

Laser resurfacing: Laser procedure to remove signs of aging, including fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots.

Melanin: A chemical in the body that gives skin and hair their unique color.

Melanoma: Life-threatening form of skin cancer that usually develops in an existing mole.

Tips for using skin exfoliant

Our skin is constantly renewing itself, growing new skin cells to replace the surface skin cells that grow old, die, and fall, or slough, off. Every minute of every day, between 30,000 and 40,000 dead skin cells flake away.

Factors like age and dry skin can mean that dead skin cells don’t fall away as easily as they should. When these cells build up, they can make the complexion look rough and pasty and can also contribute to the clogged pores that lead to adult acne. The regular yet careful use of a skin exfoliant can help slough off dead skin cells and uncover fresh, more youthful skin.

There are two main types of skin exfoliants: mechanical exfoliants and chemical exfoliants. Both are commonly available, and both have pros and cons regarding their use and the types of skin conditions for which they are most appropriate.

Mechanical Skin Exfoliants

Mechanical exfoliants work by sanding off dead skin cells using mildly abrasive substances. These skin exfoliants typically are facial scrubs, creamy cleansers with tiny, rough particles. As you gently massage the exfoliant over the surface of your face and skin, the friction works to loosen the old skin cells.

Mechanical skin exfoliants are readily available in drugstores and easy to use. They are particularly good for people with oily skin or acne, as they remove skin cells and debris that clog pores, but only if you don’t scrub too hard as this can cause further irritation.

However, mechanical exfoliants can be harsh. When you use them, you’re literally sanding away the outer layer of your skin. Some contain particles so jagged and rough that they could actually cut the skin. Because of this, dermatologists recommend using a gentle motion when using a skin exfoliant, and skipping them altogether if you have sensitive skin.

Chemical Skin Exfoliants

A chemical skin exfoliant uses gentle acids to dissolve whatever bonds are preventing the outer layer of dead skin cells from falling off your face and body. There are two main types of chemical skin exfoliants, those that include an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and those that include a beta hydroxy acid (BHA):

  • Alpha hydroxy acids are derived from different foods, from fruits, such as apples and grapes, to milk. Some of the most common AHAs to look for on product labels are glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, alpha-hydroxyoctanoic acid, and triple fruit acid. An alpha hydroxy acid is best for people with dry or thickened skin.
  • Beta hydroxy acids are the chemical cousins of alpha hydroxy acids, but are more oil-soluble and therefore better at exfoliating oily skin or acne-prone skin. The best known beta hydroxy acid is salicylic acid. On product labels, look for salicylate, sodium salicylate, beta hydroxybutanoic acid, or tropic acid.

Alpha hydroxy acid and beta hydroxy acid skin care products tend to be less harsh on the skin than mechanical exfoliants. They also help refresh the skin in ways a facial scrub can’t: They lower the skin’s pH level and help smooth small, shallow wrinkles, improving the look of skin that is dry or sun damaged.

Finding the right formulation for your skin involves some trial and error. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you should choose alpha hydroxy acid-based chemical exfoliants with an alpha hydroxy acid concentration of 10 percent or less and a pH of 3.5 or more. Beta hydroxy acid-based exfoliants containing salicylic acid are effective at levels of 1.5 to 2 percent. Using stronger solutions can cause skin irritation.

Another caveat: These types of exfoliants increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun for as long as a week after each use. Before going out, always apply sunscreen — a skin-saving recommendation for everyone.