Care for Dry Skin

Dry skin is a loose, unscientific term used to describe rough, scaly, and flaky skin-most often on areas below the neck-that is dry to the touch and less flexible or elastic than normal skin. And lest you think otherwise, let me set the record straight: dry skin does not cause wrinkles.

Dryness of the skin usually develops as winter approaches. When the temperature drops and the relative humidity decreases, the upper layers of your skin lose a large amount of water. This leads to dry skin with its scaling and occasional itching.

This lowered humidity is further aggravated by artificial heating which, in addition to warming the air, dries it. The dry, heated air expands like a sponge, sucking up moisture from objects in the area, such as plants (which begin to wither), furniture (which begins to crack), and our skin. We usually notice the drop in relative humidity when we get those unexpected shocks from a build-up of static electricity.

Dry skin has a tendency to improve automatically during the summer months because perspiration keeps the skin moist as it reaches the skin surface. When there is high relative humidity, there's less evaporation of moisture from our skin.

Dermatologists used to think that dry skin was caused' entirely by a lack of oily film on the surface of the skin. We now know that it's due to water loss from the skin's outer layers and to the inability of moisture to move from the deeper layers to the surface. While the natural oils on the skin surface protect the water from evaporating from the lower layers, these oils really can't prevent dry skin if there isn't enough moisture in the cells to begin with.

Several factors influence dry skin. It is more common in the elderly where, despite adequate water content of the skin, there are diminished oily secretions. Using harsh, alkaline soaps and soak­ing too long and too often in very hot baths can do it. Overheated homes with low humidity, as well as air-conditioning (which also lowers the relative humidity), likewise contribute to dry skin. Other factors include too much , overexposure to wind and cold, fuzzy and woolen clothing, towels and sheets that you may have laundered in harsh detergents but not rinsed well enough, and nutritional problems resulting from poor diet.

Here are some general guidelines for avoiding dry skin:

* Increase the relative humidity in your home to at least 40 percent by properly adjusting the heating or air-conditioning systems. If this is not practicable, buy a good, commercial room humidifier.

* When you bathe or shower, don't use extremely hot water or harsh soaps.

* Avoid excessive-sunbathing, cold temperatures, and strong winds.

* Don't wear heavy, woolen, fuzzy clothing.

* Keep healthy, make sure you eat a well-balanced diet, and drink plenty of water.

If you suffer from dry skin, try switching to mild gentle soaps and use soothing bath oils and water-attracting creams and lotions that keep in your skin's natural moisture and leave it smooth, soft, and supple.

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