Youâ€™re not alone if youâ€™re dealing with dry, itchy skin right now. Itching is the single most common winter complaint about skin, says David J. Leffell, MD, a dermatologist and the David P. Smith professor of dermatology and surgery at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. "I call it the 'Doc, I have one more thing.' Just as youâ€™re leaving the room, the patient opens up about how itchy and dry their skin is,â€ he says.
To put a stop to the skin pain and frustration, try these 10 dermatologist- approved tips for soothing dry, itchy skin.
1. Put Down the Bar of Soap â€” Itâ€™s Incompatible With Your Skin pH
Do you wash your dry skin with soap and water? You might want to rethink the habit. â€œTrue soap is drying, as it strips out key elements of the top protective layer of the skin called the stratum corneum,â€ says Dr. Leffell.
Also, the average pH of soap is 9 to 10, while the skin has a pH of 4 to 5 â€” so regular soap usage brings the skinâ€™s pH too high and can make dry, itchy skin worse, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Instead, a gentle, nonsoap cleanser should be used on the skin, suggests Kwatra. He recommends Cetaphil ($11.48, Amazon.com), but experiment until you find the right product for your skin.
No matter which you choose, be sure your cleanser is made without sodium lauryl sulfate. This irritating chemical is found in many cleansing products, according to the University of Queensland in Australia.
2. Skip the Long, Hot Soaks in the Tub â€” Theyâ€™re Sucking the Moisture From Your Skin
At the end of a long day, nothing beats a long, hot shower or soak in a steamy bath.
But if youâ€™re dealing with dry, itchy skin, youâ€™ll want to rethink your wind- down routine â€” and shorten your bathing time. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, people with dry skin should take showers that last only 5 to 10 minutes. Longer showers can remove moisture from your skin, per the Mayo Clinic.
Furthermore, the temperature of your shower or bath matters. Simply put, â€œThe longer the shower, the hotter the water, the greater the evaporation sucks out the natural moisture of the skin â€” leaving it dry, scaly, and wrinkled,â€ says Leffell. Kwatra adds, â€œLukewarm water is best for bathing.â€
To put a further damper on things, skip the bubble bath, too, which the National Eczema Association explains can also irritate the skin. Leffell says this is due to soapsuds disrupting the skin barrier and causing moisture loss.
3. Slather a Thick Cream or Ointment on Your Skin Right After Bathing
Once your shower is done, thereâ€™s a crucial step you can take to ensure that your dry skin gets the hydration it needs. â€œAfter bathing in tepid water, moisturize immediately to help trap water in the surface cells, then pat dry,â€ says J. Morgan O'Donoghue, MD, a dermatologist in Sarasota, Florida. Waiting too long after your shower to apply can cause your skin to get dry and irritated, per National Eczema Association.
When choosing your moisturizer, skip thin lotions, at least while your skin is super dry. â€œCream-based moisturizers are best for dry skin,â€ says Kwatra, because they help lock in more moisture. One option is Aveeno ($15.58, Amazon.com). If you have severely dry skin, Leffell recommends thinking about an ointment like Aquaphor ($9.58, Amazon.com).
Another option to consider is using a post-shower oil, which prevents water from evaporating on your skin, according to the Mayo Clinic. Make sure any oil, ointment, or cream is fragrance-free, says the American Academy of Dermatology, because added fragrances can irritate dry, sensitive skin.
4. Moisturize the Air in Your Living Space
Just as itâ€™s crucial for you to moisturize your skin, itâ€™s also important to make sure thereâ€™s enough moisture in your air. Low humidity can lead to dry skin and irritate your nasal passages, according to the Mayo Clinic. Aim for a 30 to 50 percent humidity level, but adjust as needed. â€œAny increase over the actual humidity in the room should help,â€ adds Leffell.
To gauge the humidity level in your home, buy a simple hygrometer that measures the humidity, recommends the Cleveland Clinic. These can be found at a local hardware store. If your air isnâ€™t humid enough, invest in a humidifier that can be easily cleaned. The Cleveland Clinic warns that itâ€™s essential to properly clean a humidifier by changing the water in the tank each day to prevent bacteria growth and washing the bucket as well as the filter every two or three days. For a humidifier, Leffell recommends a product that, at a minimum, can humidify the bedroom so you at least get about eight hours of less dry air. One option is Vicks Filter-Free Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier ($39.86, Amazon.com).
5. Wear Skin-Loving Fabrics Like Cotton â€” and Avoid Irritating Materials Such as Wool
Itâ€™s time for a closet makeover, especially if youâ€™ve got a case of dry, itchy skin. Kwatra recommends cotton-based clothing, since the material is good at absorbing sweat. â€œSome fabrics, such as wool, can worsen itching,â€ he says. According to Harvard Health Publishing, other fabrics may irritate your skin as well. The National Eczema Association says that spandex can be a culprit. So pay attention to what clothes might be causing your itchy outbreaks, then donate or recycle them.
And just like you want to go fragrance-free with your cleanser and moisturizer, itâ€™s important to choose fragrance-free laundry detergents, per Harvard. Last, skip the fabric softener, which can be irritating.
6. Shield Your Skin From Sun Damage, Which Can Increase Itchiness
Warm rays can do a number on your skin, especially if you stay out in the sun and donâ€™t protect your skin properly. â€œChronically sun-damaged skin has a poor stratum corneum, so sun-damaged skin is likely to be drier and thus more itchy at times,â€ says Leffell. According to Harvard Health Publishing, chronic sun damage can even happen to younger people.
Then there are other sun-skin problems. â€œAcute sun injury â€” from a sunburn, for example â€” makes the skin dry and itchy for other reasons: The stratum corneum has been physically damaged,â€ Leffell explains.
So for your skinâ€™s sake, stay safe when outdoors. The American Cancer Society recommends seeking shade when you can and wearing appropriate coverage: a hat, long pants, a long-sleeve shirt (some clothes are even made with built-in UV protection), sunglasses, and sunscreen. The organization suggests avoiding going out in the middle of the day, when UV rays are the strongest (between 10 a.m and 4 p.m.).
In terms of sunscreen, the American Cancer Society says to look for water- resistant products that have broad-spectrum protection, which shields you from both UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF of at least 30 or higher. Then donâ€™t forget to reapply as indicated on the label.
7. Build a Balanced, Plant-Based Diet to Help Fight Inflammation
8. Follow Healthy Habits to Keep Skin Inflammation Further at Bay
Have you always wanted to quit smoking? This may give you the motivation you need:
Besides its obvious health risks, smoking damages the skin. â€œNicotine can cause blood vessels to constrict and reduce blood flow to the skin, causing drier skin â€” yet another reason to quit smoking,â€ says Kwatra. On top of that, smoking can hasten the aging process of your skin, leading to issues like early wrinkles, puffiness below your eyes, and an uneven skin complexion, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Also, banking enough sleep is beneficial for your skin. Thatâ€™s because a lack of shut-eye can release the stress hormone cortisol, according to the National Sleep Foundation, which leads to inflammation of the skin and, potentially, flare-ups of acne, psoriasis and eczema.
You might want to consider exercising, too. While the National Eczema Association points out that sweat may trigger flare-ups for some people with eczema, movement may be influential because it supports immunity and quality sleep. The society recommends showering directly after you exercise.
9. Soothe Dry Feet With This Easy Nighttime Routine
Donâ€™t ignore dry feet or cracked heels. According to the Mayo Clinic, dry cracks in your heels can lead to deeper fissures if left untreated, ultimately upping your odds of an infection.
To help combat dry, uncomfortable feet, moisturize them twice a day, the Mayo Clinic suggests. â€œAlso, donâ€™t forget the eight hours when you are not awake â€” moisturizing before bed will make a difference,â€ says Leffell. While this advice applies to the entire body, try the Mayo Clinicâ€™s bedtime regime for dry feet: Soak your feet for a few minutes, use a loofah to lightly remove dead skin, follow up with a heavy cream on your feet, and then place your feet right into socks to allow the moisturizer to soak in.
10. Donâ€™t Hesitate to Seek Medical Treatment for Seriously Irritated Skin
Dry skin may be a sign of something more serious, like eczema or psoriasis, according to Harvard Health Publishing. See a board-certified dermatologist if you have one or more of the following symptoms, says Dr. Oâ€™Donoghue:
- Your skin doesnâ€™t improve in spite of your best efforts.
- Dryness and itching are severe enough to keep you awake at night.
- You have open sores or infections from scratching.
- You have large areas of scaling or peeling skin.
Additional reporting by Steve Horowitz.
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