Sayonara, scaly skin

December 20, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Routine skin maintenance and a bit of pampering can keep the body's biggest organ in tip-top shape.

"You have to view your skin as the envelope that protects your body from drying out," Hagers-town dermatologist James A. Schiro said.

Though different products will be needed for varying skin types, keeping skin healthy boils down to cleansing, exfoliating, moisturizing and protecting skin, dermatologists said.


Daily cleansing is needed to remove bacteria from the skin, Schiro said. Cleansing also helps to remove dead skin cells, excess skin oils and plugs within the oil glands that can lead to acne or blackheads, said dermatologist Audrey Kunin, founder and president of on the Web. Avoid bar soaps and other cleansers with fragrances, antibacterial agents and dyes that can dry and irritate the skin, Kunin advised.


The American Academy of Dermatology at on the Web gives the following cleansing tips:

· Use lukewarm water for bathing and washing hands because hot water dries skin. Cooler water extracts less oil from the skin, Schiro said.

· Avoid excessive bathing because bathing too frequently can dry skin. A short lukewarm shower, tepid bath, or sponge bath once a day for five to 10 minutes can hydrate skin effectively.

· Use soap only as needed.

· Avoid using body sponges and washcloths, friction from which can irritate skin. Lather up with your hands instead.

· Pat skin partially dry with a towel. Rubbing skin dry with a towel removes important natural oils from skin.


Schiro described the outer layer of skin as little protein bricks that are cemented with a fat mortar that helps protect the bricks. Wetting the skin too much removes those essential fats - breaking down that protective barrier, he said. Moisturizers lock in the skin's moisture to prevent dryness and cracking. The best time to apply moisturizers such as oils, creams and lotions to the skin is right after bathing because doing so helps seal in moisture, Schiro said.

The more oil a moisturizer contains the more effectively it protects against moisture loss, he said.

Schiro said petrolatum, commonly known as petroleum jelly, seals moisture in the best because it contains pure oil. Petroleum jelly will not clog pores, he said. Moisturizers in ointment form, which consist of 80 percent oil and 20 percent water, also moisturize more effectively than less oily creams and lotions, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Ointments should not be used on areas of the body that tend to get hot and sweaty. Creams contain equal parts oil and water. Lotions consist primarily of water so they do not provide as great a barrier against moisture loss as do petroleum jelly, ointments and creams, Schiro said.

He said moisturizers with such humectants as ammonium lactate and urea help the skin maintain more of its moisture.

Pampering masques

Masques formulated for specific skin types also can exfoliate and moisturize skin, according to information on Kunin's Web site. Masques formulated for normal to dry skin - including those which contain muds and minerals - can gently cleanse the skin of impurities and dead skin without stripping away the natural oils needed to maintain a protective barrier, states. Oily skin, which needs oil absorption and exfoliation to help get rid of dead skin that clogs pores, might benefit from masques that remove excess moisture. Some masques aimed at oily skin use highly absorbent Dead Sea mud, minerals and other agents to remove extra skin oils and impart nutrients, according to the Web site

In addition to exfoliating and moisturizing skin, some spas claim that products such as mud, algae and seaweed are detoxifying because they stimulate blood circulation and the lymphatic system - aiding the body's ability to carry away waste products. Organic body wraps and masques might pamper the skin, but dermatologists do not promote the detoxification idea.

Maria Kritikos, co-owner of Reméde Salon & Day Spa - formerly X-Press Tanning Studio - said the spa's European Body Wrap System "is a wonderful skin treatment." The sea clay that's rubbed over the skin exfoliates and draws out "toxins" - including caffeine, sugar and salt - that have accumulated in the body's soft tissue layers, Kritikos said. Drinking lots of water following the wrap flushes those toxins out of the body, she said.

Certified massage therapist and esthetician Renee Schuckman provides the Aveda Caribbean Body Masque service at Sagittarius Salon and Sanctuary Spa in Hagerstown. She said that the pampering service exfoliates, mineralizes and hydrates the skin but that detoxification is the overall goal of the seaweed body masque - which is composed of red and brown algae and gingeroot, natural elements that heat up when mixed together.

"Your skin will feel like silk because of the exfoliating process and the hydrating process. People definitely say their skin feels tighter and healthier and hydrated," Schuckman said. The foot bath, aromatherapy, lymphatic, scalp and face massage, and heat included in the masque service make clients "feel very, very relaxed," she said. "It's a treatment of bliss."

Protect skin

No matter what the season, it's important to protect skin against the sun's harmful rays with sunscreen and protective clothing. Snow reflects 80 percent of the sun's rays, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

"You can still get sunburned in the winter, especially if you're at those higher elevations skiing," Schiro said.

Dry skin accompanied by redness and itching should be examined by a doctor, he said.

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