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Category Archives: Beauty

The Best Care for Your Skin Type

Makeup experts and skin care specialists refer often to various skin types — dry, oily, combination — assuming you know which category you fall under. Your skin care regimen depends on your skin type, but not everyone has a good understanding of their skin. As a result, their skin care plan is more of the hit-or-miss variety.

Know Your Skin Type

Unsure of what skin type you have? See which description fits you best:

  • Dry skin. “Dry skin can be flaky and easily irritated. It’s more sensitive,” says Linda Franks, MD, director of Gramercy Park Dermatology and clinical assistant professor in the department of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine in New York. She says if your skin has these qualities and also tends to react to some (or all) of the skin products you have tried, you have dry skin. The extreme version of dry skin is sensitive skin.
  • Oily skin. The primary test for determining if you have oily skin is when you start to feel some oil on your face. Most people can feel a little oil by late afternoon, but if you feel oil around midday, you have oily skin. Oily skin rarely reacts negatively to skin products like dry, sensitive skin types do. It has slightly better natural sun protection, but is also prone to acne.
  • Combination skin. If the description of dry skin matches your cheeks, but the description of oily skin matches your “T-zone” (nose and brow area primarily), you have combination skin.

Matching skin care to skin type is important. Dr. Franks notes that there are two commonly used skin care products that just about everyone can steer clear of: toner and too-frequent exfoliation, both of which can strip away the protective layers of your skin. If you have a good skin care regimen, you don’t need either one, although you could plan for a semi-annual exfoliation as seasons change.

Caring for Dry Skin

Dry skin needs babying and lots of tender, loving care. Here are the key components of dry skin care:

  • Cleanse. Use a gentle cleanser. You should be able to cleanse at night and not have to cleanse again in the morning. “Mild cleansers are best for all skin types,” says Franks, who recommends Purpose, Dove bar soap, or Cetaphil cleanser. These cleansers should easily remove makeup as well as dirt.
  • Apply retinol. “Stick to a retinol for anti-aging. Retinol can be very good for dry skin,” says Franks. However, not everyone with dry skin can use retinol products due to sensitivity. If irritation appears, the frequency of use can be decreased.
  • Apply products with hyaluronic acid. “The other thing that can go on underneath a moisturizer is a hyaluronic acid product. That molecule is very hydroscopic — it pulls water in around it. That would be a great augmenting moisturizer for someone with dry skin,” says Franks.
  • Moisturize. “The stratum corneum, which is the dead skin cell layer that protects the surface of the skin, tends to get easily interrupted with dry skin. You want to try to repair that,” advises Dr. Franks. Look for moisturizers that contain phospholipids, cholesterol, and essential fatty acids. She recommends CeraVe Moisturize in the morning (with an SPF of 30) and more moisturizer before bed, using a thicker cream, such as Olay’s Regenerist.
  • Proceed with caution. It helps to take your time adding new products to your skin care routine, says Franks. Try them one at a time and wait to see if you get a reaction before adding another new product.

Caring for Oily Skin

If you have oily skin, you’ll have an easier time finding skin care products that won’t irritate, but your challenge is managing the oil:

  • Cleanse. People with oily skin or acne should wash with a gentle cleanser morning and evening. Franks offers this tip for cleansing properly: Use your fingertips and rub it in for 30 seconds before rinsing.
  • Use salicylic acid. Apply an alcohol-free salicylic acid product, such as a Stridex pad, or a salicylic acid medicated cleanser on the oily areas of your skin. Do this two or three times a week.
  • Apply retinol. Retinol products also cut down on oil production and reduce the appearance of large pores. They are a good anti-aging choice for those with oily skin, who are less likely to find them irritating than those with dry skin.
  • Moisturize. Use an oil-free moisturizer with SPF 30. “One of my favorites is Complete Defense in the Olay line,” says Franks.

Caring for Combination Skin

People with combination skin will follow the same basic routine, but have to make it a balancing act, drawing from skin care routines for both oily and dry skin:

  • Cleanse. Stick to gentle cleansers. “Do not use a medicated cleanser at all — keep it mild,” says Franks. Once a day should be fine unless you have significant oil in some parts of your face.
  • Spot-treat with salicylic acid. Apply this to the oilier areas of your face every other day.
  • Moisturize. Go for oil-free products with SPF 30 and spot-treat the drier areas of your face with richer moisturizer.

Take some time to develop the skin care routine that’s right for your skin type. If you are still unsure of how to care for your complexion, talk to a dermatologist about the products you are using and how they affect your skin. With a little work, you can achieve a healthy glow, no matter what your skin type.

Skin and Beauty Resources

The AAD is an association of practicing dermatologists that provides medical information and skin care education to the public. The AAD’s main Web site contains information on:

A related Web site, SkinCarePhysicians.com was created by the AAD to help patients find out more information about skin cancer and other skin conditions, as well as information about cosmetic procedures and treatments.

American Society for Dermatologic Surgery

847-956-0900

The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery membership consists of dermatologic surgeons who diagnose and treat skin cancer and revitalize aging, environmentally damaged skin. Its Web site contains a variety of consumer information, including:

American Society of Plastic Surgeons

847-228-9900

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons is the society of board-certified plastic surgeons. Its Web site contains a large database of public education information on plastic surgery, including details on:

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)

877-226-4267

Part of the National Institutes of Health, NIAMS supports research initiatives looking into the causes, treatment, and prevention of skin diseases, as well as arthritis and musculoskeletal diseases. The NIAMS Information Clearinghouse provides a wealth of health information, including information on various skin diseases and their treatments.

Skin and Beauty Books

The Beauty Bible: The Ultimate Guide to Smart Beauty by Paula Begoun (Beginning Press; 2002). A comprehensive resource for people looking for straight answers about beauty and cosmetic products, treatments, and procedures. Begoun provides easy-to-read information that will help you make more informed skin care and beauty decisions.

Secrets of Great Skin: The Definitive Guide to Anti-Aging Skin Care by David J. Goldberg, MD and Eva M. Herriott, PhD (Innova Publishing, 2005). This book covers strategies for preventing and reducing signs of aging on your skin. Tips include how to reduce stress and other factors that lead to premature aging, the best nutrition for healthy skin, optimal skin care for younger-looking skin, and treatments that can revitalize aging skin. Dr. Goldberg is a board-certified dermatologist and director of laser research at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Skin Sense! A Dermatologist’s Guide to Skin and Facial Care by Stephen M. Schleicher, MD (iUniverse, Inc., 2004). Written by a leading dermatologist with more than 20 years of clinical experience, this book contains information on the importance of nutrition in skin care; early detection of skin cancer; management of psoriasis, eczema, and other skin conditions; tips on achieving a healthy complexion; and the latest anti-aging treatments. This is a valuable resource for people who are concerned about the health of their skin.

The Skin Care Benefits of Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Skin care fads come and go, but alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) have been popular for some time.

AHAs are a collection of compounds made from familiar food products. Among the most widely known are glycolic acid (from sugar cane), lactic acid (sour milk), malic acid (apples), citric acid (citrus fruits), and tartaric acid (wine grapes).

The original seekers of younger-looking skin used these natural compounds many centuries ago, going back as far as the ancient Egyptians. In the United States, their popularity has skyrocketed in recent years. First, dermatologists used them for in-office facial peels, then they found their way into many skin care products after their FDA approval for over-the-counter use in 1992. Today you can find AHAs in hundreds of items, ranging from face and body creams to sunscreen, acne products, shampoos, cuticle softeners, and lightening agents.

“Alpha hydroxy acids are great exfoliators and increase blood flow to the skin, so they can help to minimize fine lines and wrinkles,” says Kenneth Beer, MD, a clinical instructor in dermatology at Duke University in Durham, N.C., who is in private practice in Palm Beach, Fla.

Other potential skin care benefits include lightening of dark spots and a reduction in the appearance of blackheads and acne.

AHA Skin Care Products: Making the Right Choices

“There is no ‘best’ concentration, nor ‘best’ preparation,” says Robin Ashinoff, MD, director of cosmetic dermatology at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J. It all depends on your skin type and the amount of improvement desired.

The main difference among alpha hydroxy acid skin care products is their concentration and pH. At over-the-counter levels, alpha hydroxy acids are generally safe for many people, though those with sensitive skin, rosacea, or seborrheic dermatitis may be more likely to get a rash and need to halt treatment or try a different brand. Typically, over-the-counter skin care products, such as moisturizers or lotions, contain less than 5-percent glycolic acid; medical-grade “cosmeceuticals” (products that are a cross between cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, or drug-strength meds) have 8 to 14 percent. These products are designed for daily use, but it can take months to show improvement.

“Quicker, better results can be obtained with 20- to 30-percent glycolic acid peels, but results are temporary and need to be repeated frequently,” says Dale Isaacson, MD, an associate clinical professor at George Washington University Medical Center who is in private practice in Washington, D.C. These peels must be done by trained cosmetologists.

The best and longest-lasting results come from peels done at 50- to 70-percent concentrations, but they have the most risk of side effects and a doctor must apply them.

AHA Skin Care Products in a Nutshell

The pros:

  • Subtle improvement gives skin a fresher look.
  • With lighter peels, there’s fine-line reduction without any down time.
  • AHAs often lighten age spots and remove blackheads as part of the results.
  • Drugstore brands are inexpensive to try on your own.

The cons:

  • At-home products at low concentrations may take months to show results.
  • The most effective peels must be done in a doctor’s office and can be expensive.
  • Deep peels have a longer healing time; skin will look sunburned for a couple of days and then peel.
  • New skin is more sensitive to sun damage; you’ll need to be vigilant about sunscreen.

The next time you’re browsing for skin care products, look for those containing one of the alpha hydroxy acids. And be sure to buy extra sunscreen — not just because AHAs expose new skin to sun damage, but because a good sunscreen is also one of the best ways to prevent any further aging of your skin.

What’s Your Skin Type?

Skin is generally classified into one of four categories: normal, oily, dry, and combination, says Susan Van Dyke, MD, a dermatologist with Van Dyke Laser and Skin Care in Paradise Valley, Ariz. However, your skin type can change as you age, and other factors like genetics and even illness can play a part. “It’s multi-factorial,” Dr. Van Dyke says.

Normal skin, which has a good balance of moisture, small pores and an even tone, is the goal of most skin care regimens. Most people have normal skin, Van Dyke says, but to maintain its good condition, it’s important to minimize its exposure to the sun. A facial sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is ideal for preventing wrinkles and other sun damage.

“Put it by your toothpaste and use it,” Van Dyke says. “It doesn’t matter if it is snowing or raining — get in that habit so you always have it on. Incidental sun exposure is what gets you.”

Skin Care: Quieting Oily Skin

Oily skin is identified by an excess of oil (the technical term is sebum) on the face. Some people with oily skin begin to feel greasy only a few hours after washing. “A very oily person would feel the need to wash their face between noon and 5 p.m., because oil has built up during the day,” Van Dyke says. Oily skin can be an inherited trait, but it can also be caused by puberty, which causes oil glands to go into overdrive. You may also notice more oil on your “T-zone” because of all the oil glands in the forehead, nose, and chin.

People with oily skin generally don’t need a regular moisturizer, but sunscreen is still necessary to reduce exposure to UV rays. Choose an oil-free sunscreen, suggests Van Dyke says, one that’s specifically formulated for the face and are less likely to create blackheads and clog pores. “There are plenty of oil-free sunscreens available,” Van Dyke says. “Go to the drugstore, read labels, and try samples of different ones. There’s no excuse not to use sunscreen anymore.”

Skin Care: Soothing Dry Skin

Dry skin, on the other hand, suffers from a lack of natural moisture — there’s little oil to act as a surface barrier and lock in moisture. People with dry skin feel a tightness about their face, and their skin is often irritated. Flaking is another symptom, but it’s not always a sure sign of dry skin. “You can have flaky skin and not be dry,” Van Dyke says. Sometimes, severely dry skin can become itchy and painful, leading to a condition called eczema.

Treatment of certain medical conditions can sometimes lead to dry skin. For example,breast cancer treatment may stop hormone production which could in turn affect the quality of your skin. “This will throw people into a menopausal situation at an early age,” Van Dyke says. “Suddenly, there’s no oil production.” Naturally-occurring menopause can have the same effect; most women begin to experience drier skin as they hit their late forties. To care for dry skin, use a gentle, soap-free cleanser, and moisturize adequately. A second application of moisturizer may be needed during the day, Van Dyke adds.

Skin Care: Balancing Combination Skin

Combination skin is a blend of both oily and dry skin. People with combination skin usually find that their oily skin is concentrated in the T-zone, while their cheeks remain dry. Combination skin can be influenced by genetics and, again, by puberty, when oil glands increase their production of sebum. Sometimes a variety of products are needed to treat combination skin. “You may have to treat different parts of the face slightly differently,” Van Dyke says. For example, a mild cleanser and moisturizer may be needed on the cheeks, while an anti-acne product with benzoyl peroxide might be necessary on the T-zone.

If you’re still not sure about your skin type or the best way to nourish it, consult adermatologist who can recommend an over-the-counter skin care regimen or offer you a physician’s line of products. Look for a doctor who is board-certified by the American Academy of Dermatology. “Your dermatologist is absolutely your best skin-care expert,” Van Dyke says.

The Diet for Dry Skin

If you have dry skin, you know that lotions and moisturizers help. But can certain dietary choices combat dry, itchy, scaly skin?

“The most important part of the skin barrier is lipids, including phospholipids, free fatty acids, cholesterol, and ceramides,” says Amy Newburger, MD, an attending physician in the Dermatology Department at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Medical Center. “Skin without enough fat in it has a protein predominance and is kind of like a mess made just of twigs with no glue between them.” Water easily escapes through a barrier without lipids, allowing skin to become dehydrated.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are necessary for the production of intercellular lipids — the “glue” between the “twigs” in the stratum corneum, or surface of the skin. They also have an anti-inflammatory effect on irritated skin. Two types of fatty acids that are “essential” — that is, they must be obtained through the diet — are omega-3s, and omega-6s.

Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish like salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines, as well as flaxseed oil, some types of eggs, and grass-fed beef. Evening primrose oil and borage seed oil, which are high in omega-6s, help hydrate the skin and prevent water from evaporating, says Leslie Baumann, director of the University of Miami Cosmetic Medicine and Research Institute. “If you don’t like fish or are pregnant and can’t eat it, omega-3 supplements are a good option.” Most Americans get enough omega-6s through their diet because they’re contained in corn and safflower oils.

While anecdotal success of fatty acids for alleviating dry skin has not been conclusively bolstered by research, several studies have shown significant positive effects: In a 2006 study of 50 patients with atopic dermatitis, 96 percent of those given capsules of evening primrose oil for five months showed notable reduction in intensity, itching, and dryness of the skin. In another study, of 29 elderly patients, borage seed oil supplements taken in pill form helped reduce water loss from the skin by 10.8 percent. And in a study of 118 infants with high risk of developing atopic dermatitis, those who were given borage seed oil and went on to develop the condition experienced a lower severity of the disorder than those in a placebo group. On the other hand, a 2006 meta-analysis of 22 studies that tested the effects of essential fatty acid supplementation found that no significant benefit was conferred on people with atopic dematitis by plant and fish oil supplements. More studies must be conducted before conclusions can be reached.

Vitamins and Minerals for Dry Skin

“Vitamin C is necessary for the function of the enzyme that causes collagen to form,” says Dr. Newburger, “and collagen acts as a sponge for moisture.”

Newburger adds that copper and zinc are also necessary. Together, vitamin C, zinc, and copper keep collagen denser, which in turn allows for plump, hydrated skin. “Any good multivitamin with trace minerals in it contains zinc and copper,” says Newburger. Zinc has also been found to have anti-inflammatory effects, which is vital for maintaining smooth skin.

Caffeine, Alcohol, and Dry Skin

While consuming caffeine is unlikely to dehydrate you, it does make the blood vessels constrict, which is why it’s used in eye creams (to reduce puffiness). “Long term, this means a reduced amount of blood flow and nutrients though the tissues,” warns Newburger. “And if you don’t have healthy circulation, you won’t have age-appropriate cell turnover.”

In the case of alcohol, Michele Murphy, a registered dietitian at NewYork Presbyterian–Weill Cornell Medical Center, explains that although it’s a diuretic, you’d need to be severely dehydrated to experience any noticeable changes. “The average person having a glass of wine with dinner every night and maintaining adequate fluid intake is unlikely to see any real difference,” she says. Contrary to popular belief, drinking large amounts of water does not affect skin. “The water we drink that’s processed internally isn’t going to impact the external look or feel of the skin,” Murphy says. Instead, it’s the skin’s outer layer that is essential for keeping moisture in.

Don’t Overdo It

If you’re already eating a balanced diet with sufficient fats, adding more fats or taking supplements is not necessarily a quick fix for dry skin. “If you’re deficient in fat or certain vitamins, it does have the potential to affect the look or feel of your skin,” says Murphy. “But supplementing beyond what the body needs has not been shown to improve skin.”

Tips to Choosing the Right Skin Care for You

Selecting skin-care products can be a daunting task, what with all the choices filling pharmacy aisles. You’ll find dozens of over-the-counter products with such labels as “maximum strength,” “clinical strength,” and “original prescription strength” — plus seemingly identical products that are available only by prescription. What do all these labels mean, and how do you know which product is the best one for you? Here are some answers.

How Much Active Ingredient?

The active ingredient in an over-the-counter product is often the same as the one found in its prescription counterpart, but at a lower dosage. Over-the-counter dandruff shampoo contains a lower dosage of the active ingredient ketoconazole (1 percent), while the prescription-strength versions contain 2 percent. Inhydrocortisone anti-itch cream, the maximum over-the-counter dosage is 1 percent, while prescription-strength creams contain 2.5 percent. According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, once a product’s active ingredient reaches a certain percentage — such as 1.5 percent for hydrocortisone, or 2 percent for salicylic acid in acne treatments — it requires a prescription from a doctor.

Sometimes It’s Just a Marketing Strategy

Because the FDA does not closely regulate over-the-counter skin-care products, a company can label a product “maximum strength” or “clinical strength” for any reason it sees fit — and the label is no guarantee that the product will actually be any stronger than others on the market. The best way to find out whether you are really getting the “maximum” strength of an ingredient is to check the ingredients label, says Robyn Gmyrek, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Compare the label with other products on the shelf,” says Dr. Gmyrek, and check the percentage of the active ingredient in each product.

Although an increase in the active ingredient in a product of 1 percent may not seem as though it would significantly affect the strength, it can, says dermatologist Doris Day, MD, director of Day Cosmetic, Laser and Comprehensive Dermatology in New York City and a professor at NYU Medical School. For this reason, it’s best to test a new skin-care product by applying a dime-sized amount on your forearm, to see if it causes a reaction.

Prescription Products Must Be Approved by the FDA

For the FDA to approve a product’s switch from over-the-counter to prescription-strength status, regulations require a company to show that even a slight increase in the amount of active ingredient (for example, 1 percent) “changes the structure or function of the skin.” All prescription products are reviewed by the FDA and have gone through numerous clinical trials, says Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York City dermatologist. The FDA also decides what dosage level constitutes a prescription. Some OTC products may be labeled “original prescription strength,” which means a prescription from a doctor was once required, but the product is now available without one.

Finding the Right Product for You

How do you know which product to try? Stronger dosages can have harsher effects on your skin, so it’s generally safer to start with a lower dosage. Try the basic OTC product for a minimum of two weeks to gauge the results, then move on to a maximum- or clinical-strength product, if necessary, or request a prescription, says Dr. Day. For acne, you should expect to wait a little longer — from four to six weeks — to see results. And if any product irritates your skin or makes symptoms worse, see your doctor immediately.

Tips to Use a Skin Exfoliant

Our skin is constantly renewing itself, growing new skin cells to replace the surface skin cells that grow old, die, and fall, or slough, off. Every minute of every day, between 30,000 and 40,000 dead skin cells flake away.

Factors like age and dry skin can mean that dead skin cells don’t fall away as easily as they should. When these cells build up, they can make the complexion look rough and pasty and can also contribute to the clogged pores that lead to adult acne. The regular yet careful use of a skin exfoliant can help slough off dead skin cells and uncover fresh, more youthful skin.

There are two main types of skin exfoliants: mechanical exfoliants and chemical exfoliants. Both are commonly available, and both have pros and cons regarding their use and the types of skin conditions for which they are most appropriate.

Mechanical Skin Exfoliants

Mechanical exfoliants work by sanding off dead skin cells using mildly abrasive substances. These skin exfoliants typically are facial scrubs, creamy cleansers with tiny, rough particles. As you gently massage the exfoliant over the surface of your face and skin, the friction works to loosen the old skin cells.

Mechanical skin exfoliants are readily available in drugstores and easy to use. They are particularly good for people with oily skin or acne, as they remove skin cells and debris that clog pores, but only if you don’t scrub too hard as this can cause further irritation.

However, mechanical exfoliants can be harsh. When you use them, you’re literally sanding away the outer layer of your skin. Some contain particles so jagged and rough that they could actually cut the skin. Because of this, dermatologists recommend using a gentle motion when using a skin exfoliant, and skipping them altogether if you have sensitive skin.

Chemical Skin Exfoliants

A chemical skin exfoliant uses gentle acids to dissolve whatever bonds are preventing the outer layer of dead skin cells from falling off your face and body. There are two main types of chemical skin exfoliants, those that include an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and those that include a beta hydroxy acid (BHA):

  • Alpha hydroxy acids are derived from different foods, from fruits, such as apples and grapes, to milk. Some of the most common AHAs to look for on product labels are glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, alpha-hydroxyoctanoic acid, and triple fruit acid. An alpha hydroxy acid is best for people with dry or thickened skin.
  • Beta hydroxy acids are the chemical cousins of alpha hydroxy acids, but are more oil-soluble and therefore better at exfoliating oily skin or acne-prone skin. The best known beta hydroxy acid is salicylic acid. On product labels, look for salicylate, sodium salicylate, beta hydroxybutanoic acid, or tropic acid.

Alpha hydroxy acid and beta hydroxy acid skin care products tend to be less harsh on the skin than mechanical exfoliants. They also help refresh the skin in ways a facial scrub can’t: They lower the skin’s pH level and help smooth small, shallow wrinkles, improving the look of skin that is dry or sun damaged.

Finding the right formulation for your skin involves some trial and error. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you should choose alpha hydroxy acid-based chemical exfoliants with an alpha hydroxy acid concentration of 10 percent or less and a pH of 3.5 or more. Beta hydroxy acid-based exfoliants containing salicylic acid are effective at levels of 1.5 to 2 percent. Using stronger solutions can cause skin irritation.

Another caveat: These types of exfoliants increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun for as long as a week after each use. Before going out, always apply sunscreen — a skin-saving recommendation for everyone.

How and When to Use Exfoliants

You should not use an exfoliant every day. Your skin needs time to regenerate its topmost layer, which exfoliation strips away. People with dry skin should only exfoliate once or twice a week, while those with oily skin can exfoliate two to four times a week. Stop using an exfoliant if you find your skin becoming irritated or developing a rash. Remember to moisturize your skin after exfoliating, to soothe it and keep it from drying out.

Tender Loving Care for Dry Skin

 Itchy, dry skin, also known as xerosis, is a distraction we can all do without. It’s uncomfortable and the cracked, flaky, red skin can be unattractive. If you scratch a lot, bacteria can invade those cracks and then you might even develop an infection.

The good news: You can manage dry skin even if you can’t control the environmental conditions that cause it, such as cold weather or central heating.

Skin Care for Dry Skin

First, cut back on washing. “Overwashing, particularly long, hot showers, is the number one reason for dry skin,” says Bruce Robinson, MD, Manhattan-based dermatologist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

His recommendations for people with dry skin? “Decrease their frequency of bathing, use a mild soap, and don’t soap the whole body every day. And, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.”

With so many different types of moisturizers available, finding the right one for your needs can be a challenge — should you choose a lotion, a cream, or an ointment?

Dermatologist Susan C. Taylor, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in New York, recommends moisturizers that contain ceramides, natural lipid molecules that contain fatty acids. “Ceramides have a natural moisturizing factor. If you add ceramide to lotions and cleansers, you replace them in the skin. That’s the newest twist on moisturizers,” she explains.

Besides looking for a moisturizer that contains ceramides, Dr. Taylor, who is also a spokesperson for the AAD, says it’s wise to choose an ointment or cream over lotion. In fact, good old-fashioned petrolatum (petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline and similar store brands) can be the most effective choice.

“The oils in petrolatum trap moisture in the skin and provide a barrier from the outside environment,” Taylor says. “As long as you’re not acne-prone, I don’t have a problem with using petrolatum.”

Dry Skin Care in Winter

It can be particularly difficult to maintain soft, pliant skin in colder weather. Take these steps to keep your skin in good shape during the winter:

  • Take brief, lukewarm showers or baths. Pat dry and then immediately apply moisturizer.
  • Try using a humidifier to relieve the dryness in the air. Be sure to clean it regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid mold.
  • Protect your skin from the elements. Shield yourself from extreme cold and wind with layered clothing, hats, gloves, and warm shoes. Don’t forget to use petrolatum-based lip balm to avoid chapped lips.
  • Always use sunscreen. Regardless of the season or the weather, exposure to the sun can lead to not only dry skin, but also early aging and skin cancer.
  • Apply moisturizer several times a day if needed. Older adults need to pay even more attention to their skin to keep it supple, attractive, and comfortable. As part of the normal aging process, our skin tends to lose some natural oils, making us dryer, according to Taylor. “Make sure you apply a moisturizer several times a day, particularly as you mature,” she says.

Dry Skin Care: Other Considerations

In addition to what you should do, what not to do is also important when you have dry skin. There are products that you may want to steer clear of:

  • Any health and beauty aid that can be very drying to the skin, like regular, non-moisturizing face and body bar soaps. Unless you are otherwise directed by your doctor, look for a mild, pH balanced soap-free cleanser instead.
  • Acne-fighting chemicals, like benzoyl peroxide.

How your skin reacts, and what you should avoid, is very unique to each person. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist about your skin care regimen and see if any of the products you’re using contain ingredients that could be making your dry skin drier.

If you can’t seem to get a severe case of dry skin under control, and certainly if you develop an infection, see a dermatologist for an evaluation and treatment. A fresh look at how to care for your skin might give you the improvement you’re looking for.

Tips to Find the Right Skin Moisturizer

 Feel overwhelmed when you want to buy skin moisturizer for your dry skin? That’s no surprise, as there are dozens to choose from at the drugstore and hundreds more at high-end cosmetics and department stores — creams, lotions, ointments, some with sunscreen, others with an exfoliant. Choices range from the basic $1.50 jar of petroleum jelly to a $500 five-ounce tub of designer skin moisturizer. And all the options in between can make your head spin.

While choosing the right skin moisturizer may seem confusing, it’s actually very simple if you follow a few guidelines, says dermatologist Monica Halem, MD, of ColumbiaDoctors Eastside in New York City. Dr. Halem’s first rule of thumb? Don’t spend too much money.

How a Skin Moisturizer Works

Cleansers and moisturizers are the most important skin products, particularly for softening dry skin. A skin moisturizer works by sealing moisture into the outer layer of the skin and by pulling moisture from the inner layers of skin to the outer layer.

Key ingredients that seal in moisture are petrolatum, mineral oil, lanolin, and dimethicone. Glycerin, propylene glycol, proteins, urea, and vitamins help attract water into the outer layer of the skin.

Some skin moisturizers also contain an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which exfoliates dead skin, says Francesca Fusco, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and a spokeswoman for the Skin Cancer Foundation. AHAs are a good choice if you have very dry skin.

Finding the Skin Moisturizer For You

It may take some trial and error, Halem says, so be patient. Follow these guidelines as you shop and, if you’re not getting the results you want, try a new one the next time:

  • Note the first five ingredients. Look for common active ingredients, such as lanolin, glycerin, or petrolatum, Dr. Fusco says. Glycerin is less likely than lanolin to cause an allergic reaction, she says. She also recommends picking a moisturizer that’s made by a reputable company.
  • Go for added sunscreen. Protecting your skin from harmful sun damage is one of the best things you can do to keep your skin looking young, so buy a moisturizer with a sun protection factor of at least 30. You’ll have to do some searching, but more companies are offering face and body moisturizers with sunscreen, Halem says.
  • Make it skin-type appropriate. The skin on your face is thinner and more sensitive, so it’s a good idea to use a different moisturizer on your face than you do on your body, Fusco says and recommends buying one that’s labeled “non-comedogenic” because it won’t clog your pores. Of course, choose one that’s right for your skin type. If you know you have sensitive skin, it’s always a good idea to look for a moisturizer labeled hypoallergenic. If you have oily skin, go with a light, oil-free moisturizer. If you have dry skin, get something richer. And if you have combination skin, go with a lighter moisturizer for your whole face and dot drier areas with a heavier cream, Fusco says. Keep in mind that you may need a lighter lotion in the summer, and a cream or ointment in the winter.
  • Consider using a moisturizer with retinol before bed. Retinol is vitamin A for your skin, Halem says. It works by increasing the speed at which your skin cells turn over. You can find it over the counter or by prescription, but use it carefully as it may cause a skin irritation, red skin, or dry skin.

Relief by Prescription

If your skin is very dry, consider a prescription moisturizer. Prescription moisturizers contain the AHA lactic acid, which softens the top layer of your skin and can do a better job if over-the-counter moisturizers aren’t working for you, Fusco says. AHAs such as lactic acid and glycolic acid can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Tell your doctor if you experience burning, irritation, red skin, itching, or a rash.

Another prescription option is a barrier cream, which contains humectants that hold on to moisture longer, Fusco says. Barrier creams penetrate a little deeper than standard moisturizers, she adds.

When to Moisturize

Once you find the right product, moisturize every day and you’ll go a long way toward preventing dry skin and even camouflaging wrinkles. While a skin moisturizer can’t get rid of wrinkles — because wrinkles begin much deeper in the skin due to collagen loss — it can plump up the skin and minimize their appearance, Halem says.

Whichever moisturizer you choose, it will work better if you apply it to damp skin. Think about a sponge that’s dried out, Fusco says. If you put moisturizer on it, it won’t go anywhere. But if you soak the sponge in water and coat it with moisturizer, the sponge will absorb it. Your skin works the same way, happily lapping it up.

Simple Acne Treatment Tips

 If you have acne, you’re among more than 70 million people in the United States who have suffered from this skin condition at some time in their lives. It is so common that acne affects about 80 percent of Americans 20 to 30 years old. During the teenage years, acne is more common in boys than in girls, but in adults it’s more common in women.

Despite the fact that it’s so commonplace, there are many misconceptions about acne, says Guy Webster, MD, PhD, a clinical professor of dermatology at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and founder of the American Acne and Rosacea Society.

Getting to the Root of Acne

Whether you call it acne, pimples, or zits, in order to treat the condition, it’s important to understand the causes:

  • Clogged pores and bacteria: In your teens, the glands in the skin begin secreting sebum, an oily substance. This normally comes out through the pores, but in some people, sebum clogs up in the pores, allowing a bacterium, called P. acnes, to begin to grow.
  • Hormones: In your teen years, hormones start changing and affecting your body, including causing acne. This also happens during pregnancy, which explains why pregnant women or women having their periods often have acne breakouts. Hormones released during stressful times can also cause acne.
  • Genetics: You may be more likely to develop acne if your parents had acne when they were younger.

The Right Acne Treatment

There are many ways to take care of acne, depending on what causes it and how bad it is. Moderate and severe acne usually needs acne treatment recommended by a doctor, but mild acne, blackheads, whiteheads, and a few pimples can usually be treated at home.

Dr. Webster says one big misconception is that acne is caused by dirty skin. “The goal is not to scrub acne away,” he says. “If you scrub, you’re taking off skin, and there’s a reason for the skin being there.” Skin is a protective barrier.

Here are some tips that Webster shares with people who have acne:

  • Wash gently; don’t scrub.
  • Use a gentle soap to wash your face.
  • Wash with your hands, not a washcloth or “scrubby.”
  • Use a 5 percent benzoyl peroxide product.
  • Treat your whole face — don’t “spot treat.” This way, you’re treating pimples still under the skin but not yet visible.

And what should you stay away from?

  • Facial scrubs of any kind.
  • “Face puffs” or abrasive pads.
  • Expensive cosmetic regimens that people try to sell you.

Acne Treatment: Other Tips

Other tips to keep acne from getting worse:

  • If you’re a male, be careful shaving.
  • Don’t pick or scratch at pimples.
  • Avoid the sun. While many people feel that sun exposure makes their acne better, this is not always so. The rays can also cause other unwanted issues, such as premature aging and skin cancer.

When Should I See a Doctor for Acne Treatment?

According to Webster, if the pimples are leaving scars or if your treatment isn’t working, then it’s time to see a family doctor or dermatologist.

And while acne is a bummer, it doesn’t have to take over your life; take action and take control of your skin.