Tips and tricks to beat dry winter skin

WASHINGTON — Is it possible to have soft, healthy skin, even in the dead of winter? While you may be suffering from red, raw, cracked skin right now, there are things you can do to make a difference.

Keep your whole body happy

Dr. Cynthia DeKlotz, a pediatric and adult dermatologist at Medstar Washington Hospital Center, says having a good winter skin regimen, and sticking to it, is the most effective way to manage winter damage.

“One of the biggest things you can do on a daily basis is try to maintain the moisture level in your skin,” says DeKlotz. “When you have changes in the heat and the environment, especially in cold weather, skin gets much drier very easily.”

To set up a good regimen, DeKlotz recommends starting with a bath or shower. But re-evaluating the products you use every day may help you get long-lasting results.

“Use a gentle cleanser that’s ideally free of all fragrances and perfumes,” she says.

“Actually reading the labels and seeing if something is free of all dyes and perfumes, not just ‘unscented,’ is really important if you’re experiencing dry or sensitive skin. The fragrances can irritate the skin when they get into the fabric of the clothing.”

While it may be tempting to dry yourself as quickly and as vigorously as possible, DeKlotz says creams and lotions will be more effective on slightly damp skin.

“You only want to pat dry, as opposed to getting completely bone dry. You want to make sure you can seal the moisture into the skin very quickly.”

DeKlotz says creams with ceramides, which are naturally occurring moisturizing agents in the skin, can help rehydrate particularly dry areas.

However, if your dry skin is cracked or bleeding, that may require a prescription ointment.

“If your dry skin goes to the extreme where you see cracks and fissures, you’ve actually damaged the barrier of your skin,” says DeKlotz. “If you have those open areas in the skin, you’re at a higher risk for developing infections.”

Treat yourself: At-home hand treatments

Andrea Vieira and Claudia Diamante, co-owners of Nail Saloon in Logan Circle, N.W., have seen it all.

“A lot of people come in here with raggedy cuticles, really dry knuckles and especially with hands that are really red from the chafing that occurs when hands are exposed to frigid cold air,” says Vieira.

At Nail Saloon, there’s a three-step process that manicurists use to rehydrate thirsty hands and feet. First, gently exfoliate to remove the top layers of dead skin.

“People don’t realize that a lot of what you can do to keep your hands silky soft, you can do at home,” Vieira says. “We use all-natural scrubs made with ingredients you can buy at the grocery store.”

It’s so simple, she says, you can even do it while you’re cooking.

“We tell people to open up their pantry while they’re boiling water, grab a spoonful of sugar, two spoonfuls of olive oil, or any oil, really, and rub your hands together over the sink. It’s great on your lips too.”

The second step is to steam them. A steamy shower, a hot towel, anything at your disposal. You might even try holding your hands high above that pot on your stove. Be careful, though. There is such a thing as too much steaming.

The third step: Lock it in with a powerful moisturizer.

“We mix our moisturizer with oil,” says Vieira. “A lot of people assume that oil leaves your skin really greasy, but if you prepare the surface, it absorbs quite nicely into the skin.”

Exfoliate, steam, and lock it in, says Diamante, and do it often.

“It’s not a complicated process, it’s just about following through. Do all those steps consistently. There’s no miracle sauce for beautifully moisturized hands.”

In addition to the three-step process, Vieira says it pays to keep an eye on your bad habits.

“Do not pick your cuticles. Everyone is always picking at them. That does a lot of damage.”

“From a sanitation standpoint it’s bad for you too,” says Diamante. “It’s not just the visual aspect of it. It’s also about making sure you don’t get an infection as a result.”

A common culprit for dry hands, Vieira finds, is hand sanitizer.

“In the winter we all wash our hands a lot more because of colds and sniffles and we expose ourselves to alcohol-based sanitizers. They’re great to kill germs but they’re very drying for your hands.”

If you want long-lasting soft skin, repetition is key.

“We’re not talking about taking your hands to a spa. You can do this while you’re cooking,” says Vieira. “It’s the accumulation of the effect of constantly practicing simple things that you can do quickly.”

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