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Help for Dry Winter Skin

Skin care experts suggest hydrating solutions that range from nutrition to treatments.

Andrea Myers and her two young sons say that one of the challenges of winter is dry, itchy skin. Her boys, aged six and four, can only stand wearing soft clothing, because rough fabrics like denim irritate their skin.

"It’s horrible," said Myers who lives in Old Town Alexandria. "They are constantly scratching. My own hands are so dry and cracked that my cuticles hurt."

When the temperature drops, the humidity usually follows, creating frigid, dry temperatures outside and warm, dry furnace air inside. The dehydrating combination can lead to dry, itchy winter skin. Local skin care experts say understanding the causes of dry skin is the first step to restoring it. They also offer dry-skin fighting suggestions that range from the food you eat to the products you apply to your skin.

Bethesda-based dermatologist Dr. Richard Castiello says the dry warm air inside our homes — our refuge from the cold — can lead to dry skin. "The skin will lose its water content in the dry air, particularly with modern furnaces where the air is bone dry," said Castiello "What I tell people to do is try to humidify your living [space]."

Jodey McGhee, a licensed esthetician and co-owner of Pure Aesthetica in Alexandria, said the food and liquids you consume during winter can also impact dry skin. "First and foremost is always drinking plenty liquids like clean filtered water, maybe with a squeeze of lemon or a chunk of ginger," she said. "Parsley is very hydrating. Cucumbers contain a lot of vitamins and minerals for your skin and they offer a detox for your skin, especially if we’re not working out as much and perspiring as much, they can help your skin achieve a glowing complexion."

McGhee said that consuming fruits and vegetables with anti-inflammatory properties will also aid in the battle against dry skin. "Both cucumbers and avocados have anti-inflammatory properties," she said. "Leafy greens [like] kale, collards, dandelion greens, lettuces and spinach are key. If you have a juicer and can juice these foods, your body doesn’t have to work as hard to extract the nutrients. You don’t need a lot, but 16 ounces is very good.

Make sure your diet includes good fats. "We're big on avocados, which have a lot of Vitamin E and Vitamin B," said McGhee. "Any dark leafy greens on a daily basis will help the dull, dry skin we see during winter months.

"Vitamin C helps the skin because it is a building block of collagen and elastin, and vitamin E is known to improve the skin’s moisture," she said.

When it comes to topical skin care, Castiello said to watch how often you cleanse and the type of soap you use. "Soap works by cutting oil, so be less aggressive with showering [as] frequent washing strips the skin of natural oils," he said.

McGhee said, "You always need to exfoliate, but you have to make sure you’re not over exfoliating. If you see a skin care professional, they can do it for you."

After an exfoliation, hydration is crucial as well. "Apply a water-based mask like one made of aloe — aloe is mostly water — and leave it on any where from five to 25 minutes," McGhee said.

Sealing in the moisture is the next step, although Castiello said combating dry skin doesn’t require skin-care products that come with a high price tag.

"You don’t need a fancy lotion, but the thicker and greasier the lotions, the better," said Castiello. "You can use even use warm petroleum jelly, melted so that it is reduced to an oil. That does a good job of forming an occlusive layer over the skin to seal in moisture."

McGhee suggests using a plant-based moisturizer. "You can seal the moisture in with a really good moisturizer, one that is fatty-based like almond oil or avocado oil to lock in the moisture. There are a lot of fantastic oils like grape seed oil, avocado oil, even coconut oil, that will lock in the moisture. Just make sure you use an oil that is pure."