Ask The Doctor: Dry Skin

My skin gets so dry every winter. What remedies will help?
By Alan M. Dattner, MD

Dry skin is often a sign of damage to your skin’s natural barrier from either over-bathing or an underlying allergic condition such as eczema. The skin holds in moisture with layers of flattened skin cells and fatty materials made up of waxes, cholesterol, and fatty acids. Over-bathing with soap and hot water washes away these layers as well as the salts in the skin that also hold water. Lubricating with creams and oils adds an external barrier, but never really replaces your own oils and salts. You can restock your skin’s natural oils by eating foods rich in unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish (three servings a week) or flaxseed (start with half a teaspoon daily), or by taking omega-3s as supplements. Just be sure you balance your omega-3s with beneficial gamma-linoleic acids from evening primrose oil or borage oil (1,000 to 2,000 mg daily). Add a daily dose of vitamin E (400 IU) as well to prevent oxidation of EFAs and reduce inflammation. You should also avoid trans fats, fried foods, and excessive sugar, all of which affect the skin’s production of healthy oils.

As the colder winter weather approaches, the humidity falls and the air becomes very dry. That dry air pulls moisture from your skin and leaves it flaky. Besides adding proper oils to the diet, you need to drink enough water to maintain moisture levels in the skin and body.

During winter, you should also reduce how often you bathe. Take short showers with water that’s warm rather than hot. Moisturize after you shower and before bed with oils or creams to help prevent water from evaporating from the skin. Apply nutrient-rich oils such as olive, almond, or safflower oil over moist skin, and rub them in well—they tend to come off on clothing if you don’t. Creams leave little or no residue but may have fragrances or preservatives that cause allergic reactions and itching, so look out for any possible irritations. Remember that a low-grade allergy to ingredients in skin creams can cause dryness, scaling, and itching, which you may confuse with the dry skin problem you were treating in the first place. So opt for fragrance- and paraben-free creams to prevent allergic reactions.

If your condition fails to improve or you experience persistent redness and itching, visit your dermatologist for a checkup.

Your Dry Skin RX
Bathe less frequently with as little soap as possible and cooler water than normal.

Consume omega-3–rich foods and oils, and balance with gamma-linoleic acids like borage or evening primrose oil (1,000 to 2,000 mg daily).

Drink plenty of water between meals—try to down six to eight glasses each day.

After bathing, apply natural oils, such as olive, almond, coconut, or safflower, to your skin. Or use a cream with shea butter or ceramides to combat dryness. Dattner also recommends Aubrey Organics’ Rosa Mosqueta Rose Hip Moisturizing Cream.

Alan M. Dattner, MD, is an immunologist, board-certified dermatologist, and a pioneer in the field of holistic dermatology.