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The Perils of Dry Skin


Thomas A. Cortese, Jr., M.D., Ph.D.

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Beginning with the Fall season of the year as the leaves of the trees finally turn their colors into a beautiful rich yellow, gold, orange, burnt orange, brown, red, and magical blends, the cool and refreshing temperature of air has an influence on our skin.  Our skin begins to acclimatize to the impending winter weather when temperatures may fall well below freezing.  In so doing our sebaceous glands (oil glands), the eccrine glands (sweat glands), and the tissue fluids must be ready to maintain the natural lubrication of our skin and hair. Each works together with the other to make the moisturizing liquids agreeable for our skin’s smoothness and pliability.  Keep in mind that whenever you wash your skin with soap or detergent cleanser, the skin is degreased it of its natural oils, called lipids.

As the winter coldness increases, and the heat from the furnace in our home provide us with a comfortable living temperature, the drop in humidity accentuates the water loss from our skin as it insensibly evaporates from the skin’s surface.   Within days thereafter the dryness ushers in a feeling of itchiness (pruritus).   Without any ill feelings or sensation, the skin gradually suffers from the dryness.   The Itch-Scratch Cycle ensues and scratching may become uncontrollable.  Excoriations, red streaks, powdery dryness and flakiness are all features of the discomfort from dry skin.

What can be done?

Moisturize Your Skin Properly: In humid conditions, the skin can replenish its water content naturally by absorbing moisture from the air. However, when the humidity drops, skin loses its ability to moisturize itself. Combine that with the lowered humidity of furnace heat, as well as with hot showers and baths, your skin is destined to become dry, irritated and, most of all, itchy.

Let’s conduct a simple experiment to determine how to moisten the skin.  If a piece of dried chamois skin is placed in either a bucket of water or a bucket of oil, which piece will become moistened the best?

If you chose the piece in the bucket of oil, the chamois skin will remain stiff and non-pliable.  If you chose the piece in the bucket of water, the chamois skin will be soft and pliable.  This observable fact illustrates that water is necessary for effective moisturization and pliability.  Moreover, the emulsification balance between water in oil and oil in water determines the best lubricant for our skin.  That is why there are so many skin moisturizers on the market.  Every person’s skin is different and much effort is needed to find the most appropriate lubricating cream, lotion, or ointment for your skin type.

Select the best moisturizer for your skin type:  Those which leave the skin sticky are slower to be completely absorbed and are not always the most comfortable to wear.  Men particulary do not prefer a sticky moisturizer.  However, those lubricants which are readily absorbed and leave the skin moist without stickiness are oftentimes the most desirable.  Excellent moisturizers are now available from the cosmetic counters of your drugstore and department stores.  Included are such products as Cetaphil, Eucerin, Neutragena, Almay, Lancome, Estee’ Lauder, Max Factor, and many other reputable cosmetic formulations for normal and sensitive skins.  Probably one the finest non-sticky over the counter lotions is DML Lotion.  Last but not least is the topical application of white petrolatum (Vaseline) which simply represses the skin’s water loss.

If you are having any difficulty whatsoever in dealing with your skin, in spite of the weather, you are encouraged to visit a dermatologist of your choice who can work with you to formulate a customized skin care treatment plan.

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