Dry skin can be an annoying and persistent problem, especially during the winter months when the temperature drops outside and the humidity in the heated air inside decreases. As a holistic dermatologist, I consider the whole body and look for any underlying conditions that could be preventing you from having hydrated, radiant skin.
I typically treat dry skin using natural oils applied to wet skin and a diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods and oils. If you are suffering from dry skin this winter season, here are eight important things to consider:
1. Check your oil level.
One of the first things I recommend for my patients with dry skin is a diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods, organic essential fatty acids (like omega-3 oils), and other oils that support barrier function.
2. Remember to hydrate.
And adequate hydration starts from the inside. Be sure that you are drinking enough water to support your skin and hydrate your body from the inside out. I recommend drinking about four to eight glasses of water per day, between meals, depending on your size and water loss.
3. Cut down on face washing.
Oftentimes dry skin is further aggravated by frequent face washing, which removes protective oils from the skin. Bathing also washes away salts (known as humectants) that hold water in the skin. Strong soap, hot water, longer washing, and more frequent washing aggravates this, drying out of the skin even further. A great solution is to simply wash your face and shower less often. Some people may only be able to shower one or two times a week to keep their skin hydrated. A washcloth can be used daily on the areas that are already more moist, such as under the arms.
4. Get to know your oils, and apply them to wet skin.
Whenever you wash or shower, apply organic creams or cold-pressed oil directly after to hold moisture in the skin. Oils are best because they contain fewer components and are less likely to have ingredients that would cause an allergic or irritant reaction. Almond oil and coconut oil are useful if you can tolerate them. Sometimes it helps to rotate other oils such as jojoba oil or shea butter, and they also stay on longer. But, warning, they can leave marks where they come off on your clothing or furniture.
5. Be wary of creams (and what's inside them).
Creams and lotions are mixtures of oil and water, can be put on dry skin, and are much more elegant to use. Unfortunately, when you mix oil and water, you need a variety of chemicals to enhance penetration, prevent overgrowth of bacteria, and keep the oil and water from separating. There are only a few major preservative systems used to prevent bacteria, so if you become allergic to a preservative in your cream, it's quite likely that switching creams will bring you into contact with the same or similar ones. People who have chronic dry skin may find that they run out of options for usable creams.
Natural oils are great options and can bring additional benefits to the skin, but sensitivities to these may occur as well. Other ingredients in creams may mimic the natural products that appear on normal skin to enhance the barrier function and hold in moisture. These include waxy substances known as ceramides that the skin makes, which are present in some new creams and may help support barrier function.
6. Consider eczema or atopic dermatitis.
Dry skin can also result from a number of medical conditions. The most common is eczema, or more specifically, atopic dermatitis (AD). Some people with this condition are familiar with it because of their long history of lesions and their family history of AD, asthma, and hay fever. Others have a mild case and do not know why they are getting dry, scaly patches. Conventional dermatologic care includes soothing creams and corticosteroid creams to calm down the inflammation, and a more integrative treatment calms the underlying causes, often involving digestive issues.
Common problem foods like white sugar (and occasionally gluten) often need to be eliminated, but the foods that cause inflammation vary from person to person so it's important to figure out the type of help you need for your specific body's digestion.
7. Avoid allergens.
Contact dermatitis from your skin touching any variety of substances (including fragrances and other chemicals applied to the face) can result in dryness and itching. Avoidance of the offending chemical in your makeup, plants, or environmental contact allergen is the best way to get rid of these sensitivities. If the problem is really persistent, you may need to see a dermatologist to do patch testing and help you find the cause of the problem. More detailed information on treatment of eczema and dry skin can be found in my book, Radiant Skin From the Inside Out.
8. Consult a holistic dermatologist.
Dry skin may also be a sign of more serious medical conditions. Thyroid under- or overactivity and diabetes may present with dry skin. If dryness does not respond to the suggestions listed above, it is time to see your dermatologist to investigate the problem further. Other hormonal changes, such as those with menopause, may also lead to dry skin.
A holistic dermatologist's approach includes treating the underlying conditions, investigating dermatologic, immune, and medical contributions to the problem, and being sure you have the right lifestyle tools to keep your skin moist, hydrated, and radiant.