Harvard Men's Health Watch

How do I deal with dry, itchy winter skin?

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Q. My skin gets dry and itchy in winter, and there are so many moisturizers available. What should I look for?

A. Dry skin develops when your skin doesnít retain sufficient moisture. This is often a problem in winter when the air both indoors and outdoors has low humidity, as the water content of our skin tends to reflect the level of humidity around it. Fortunately, using a good moisturizer is a simple way to relieve winter dry skin.

Youíre right, there are lots of products available, so finding the right one may mean trying a few. Simple petroleum jelly is one of the most effective moisturizers, however, many people dislike it because it looks and feels greasy. Another option may be creams and lotions that contain some water. Many of them are humectants, an oil-free class of moisturizer that binds water to skin so the smoothing, softening effect lasts longer.

Besides water as a main ingredient, look for moisturizers that contain botanical ingredients, such as jojoba oil, coconut oil, safflower oil, and linoleic acid. These tend to help maintain the skinís outer layer of keratin and keep skin supple.

If you are frequently outdoors, look for a moisturizer that also provides protection from sunlight. Choose one with at least an SPF of 30 that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. However, avoid skin toners. Many contain drying, irritating ingredients, like alcohol or acetone, and highly acidic citrus, camphor, or menthol. As with so many health issues, prevention is best. Donít wait to see dry skin or feel itchy. Moisturize whenever you think of it, and especially right after your bath or shower.

ó by Howard LeWine, M.D.Editor in Chief, Harvard Menís Health Watch

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