Dry Skin - Low humidity, mild temperatures have made this a bad winter

February 20, 1997

Dry Skin

Low humidity, mild temperatures

have made this a bad winter


Staff Writer

Don't be fooled by the calm face of winter.

The season has a rough side, giving new meaning to the phrase "crack a smile."

This has been a bad winter for people with dry skin, says dermatologist Dr. James A. Schiro.

Temperatures haven't been as low as in past years, and the humidity has been lower, he says.

"People aren't taking the usual precautions," Schiro says.


Schiro, who has a Hagerstown dermatology practice with his wife, Dr. Tara Rumbarger, says they have seen more patients with dry skin than usual this year.

People with allergies, hay fever and asthma are more susceptible to dry skin disorders, says Dr. Paul C. Waldman, a Hagerstown dermatologist.

The majority of problems occur in the winter, but nurses, surgeons or others who wash their hands frequently can get dry skin any time of year, he says.

The condition occurs due to the lack of water in the skin's outer layer.

The causes

Causes include weather stresses such as low humidity, wind, cold and sun, excessive exposure to water, and contact with harsh soaps and detergents. The aging process is another culprit because it causes skin to become thinner and to lose the ability to hold water.

The medical term for dry skin is xerosis, pronounced zi-roh-sis. Dry skin disorders include psoriasis and eczema, also known as dermatitis.

Symptoms include burning, stinging and itching. The skin can crack and bleed if it is not treated.

The lips are very prone to become dry. Schiro recommends wearing lip balm with a sun protection factor of 15. Petroleum jelly also can be used.

Other problem areas are the hands, legs and body. The face isn't as susceptible because it has so many oil glands, Schiro says.

Both men and women suffer from dry skin, although women are more likely to visit a dermatologist before dermatitis develops, Schiro says.

You should see a dermatologist when your skin is itchy to the point that it interferes with your daily routine, Schiro says.

What lotion should you buy?

Consumers face row after row of lotions and moisturizers when they walk into stores.

Many lotions that can be purchased over the counter contain mostly water, Schiro says.

Look for lotions that list oil as the first ingredient, he says.

One prescription cream available, Lac-Hydrin, has an active ingredient called ammonium lactate. The cream helps the skin retain water and peel off dead, scaly layers.

Julia Busch, a skin care authority, aromatherapist and author who lives in Coconut Grove, Fla., says many remedies for dry skin can be found at health food stores and in nature.

Aloe is a good choice because it pulls in moisture from the air, she says. Slash open the leaf and squeeze out the inner gel, then mix it with sea water, which can be obtained at a health-food store.

She says another option is cod-liver oil, which is high in vitamin A. Mix one tablespoon of cod-liver oil with 2 tablespoons of whole milk, and take it the first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, she says. Those with milk allergies can substitute orange juice for the milk.

"You will see a difference in a few weeks," she says.

Busch, whose books include "Treat Your Face Like a Salad!," says avocado - rich in vitamin E - and oatmeal also are beneficial when applied to dry skin.

She publishes a bimonthly newsletter, "So Young," that covers a range of anti-aging issues. She says dry skin is a big concern for many.

"When the skin is dry, it looks more wrinkled," she says.

How to fight it

Here are some other ways to cope with dry skin:

  • Take showers instead of baths, because you can get clean faster and the water doesn't have to be as hot, Schiro says.

Turn down the water temperature and shower as quickly as possible. After your shower, dry quickly with a towel and use moisturizer right away.

  • Wear protective gloves when outdoors, Waldman says. When doing indoor tasks where the hands will be in water, wear vinyl gloves with a cloth liner.
  • Use a humidifier in your home, or place pans filled with water on your radiators.
  • Drink plenty of water. Busch recommends downing eight to 10 8-ounce glasses of water each day.
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