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"Let me at your skin," cries the dry winter wind - (3/9/2021)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

Peg was waiting for the pharmacist to finish a prescription. The pharmacist noted that she kept scratching her arms. Then, he saw her scratch the back of her right leg with her left shoe. Next, she clawed the back of her neck and then reached down to tear at the small of her back. Her face looked raw, inflamed, and irritated. Peg looked uncomfortable. “Peg, are you in pain?” asked the pharmacist. “Oh, honey, yes. My skin is so dry this winter,” Peg replied. “But what can I do?”  

Just as summer sun can ravage the largest organ in your body, the dry winter wind can wreak havoc as well. One of the biggest culprits is dry indoor heat. The low humidity literally sucks the moisture out of your body. But you don’t have to shut off your furnace to get relief. Instead, a couple of humidifiers – especially one in the bedroom – will boost the water content in the air. Use hygrometer and aim for 30 to 50 percent humidity, advises the Cleveland Clinic. 

Also, turn down the temperature of your shower or bath water. Warm water – about 105 degrees – is better for your skin than steaming water. This is particularly important when you wash your face. And while you are in the tub, or under the shower, know that most bars of soap are more drying than a moisturizing liquid body wash. 

The pharmacist asked Peg if she was good about drinking plenty of water. “Oh, sure,” she said. “I’m always drinking Coke and I have several cups of coffee a day.” “That's not water,” the pharmacist said. He explained that drinking soda results in dehydration. This happens for two reasons. The caffeine in many beverages has diuretic properties. Thus, drinking soda will cause you to urinate more frequently. Soda also contains sodium, which will make you thirstier. Instead, drink several large glasses of water a day. Fruit juices and herbal teas will keep you hydrated too.  

Researchers maintain that dry skin can be inherited. According to a study published in the Journal of Cell Science, mutations in genes that control the production of the protein filaggrin, which plays a role in forming and hydrating the skin barrier, can cause several skin conditions. People with these mutations, estimated to be about 10 percent of the population, suffer drier skin and have a greater chance of developing scaly eczema. Atopic dermatitis is a common type of eczema. 

If you have always had dry skin or if it runs in your family, it is essential that you are diligent with daily moisturization. Scout around the pharmacy for moisturizers that contain ceramides and lipids, which help build and reinforce the skin barrier. If your residence has hard water – that is, water with a high concentration of minerals – seek out skin products that contain vitamins A and C to neutralize the drying effects of these metals. Some people ascribe to putting petroleum jelly on their feet and then covering them with socks. Moisturizing gloves for dry hands can be purchased – but then you go to bed looking like the Boston Strangler.  

Dry skin could also indicate a medical condition that is not related to an environmental cause. Conditions such as diabetes and hypothyroidism can present as dry skin. If you have inflamed areas, crusting, extreme itchiness, hyperpigmentation, and rough, scaly, or flaky skin patches, then it is time to visit a doctor. The pharmacist directed Peg to the skin care aisle and helped her select a product that was right for her situation. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist and writer-in-residence at Rx-Press. 

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