In Medical Dermatology

The easiest method to address dry skin is to bathe less often. Many Americans bathe once or twice daily and spend time scrubbing their skin with a washcloth or luffa while relaxing in a hot shower, because it feels good. But this is not the best for combatting dry skin.

A little history lesson about our skin and bathing: Before the 1840s, only the wealthy had indoor plumbing. Indoor showers started to appear in most houses in the 1930s to 1950s. A boy scout manual from the 1950s recommends that boys ideally bathe twice a week and shampoo their hair once weekly. We’ve never showered as often as we do now and probably never used more soap. Washcloths are a vestige from washing with a basin and are no longer necessary for showering.

So how does this relate to dry skin? It’s simple. Water rinses away many of the skin’s natural oils. The more it comes into contact with the skin, the drier the skin becomes. Excessively hot water is especially drying, as are many soaps and cleansers.

If you look at the common causes of dry skin, you will see that some are easy to avoid:

  • Bathing too frequently
  • Excessive use of soaps that don’t have moisturizing properties
  • Scrubbing with a washcloth or luffa

Other causes are harder to address:

  • “Winter itch” – Caused by indoor heat and low humidity
  • Genetics – Some people just have drier skin
  • Age – Our skin makes less oil with age
  • Stress – Hormonal imbalances caused by stress can lead to dry skin

People with dry, itchy skin will improve most quickly by using soap (or cleanser) only for the underarms, groin and feet during most showers. The brand of cleanser you use makes little difference. Rinsing the body and soaping only those “special areas” will still get you clean. And keep in mind that showering less often means less work!

Next, apply a cream-based moisturizer after every shower. People with dry or itchy skin should not use lotions that have a high water content, as these tend to dry the skin even more. Instead, purchase products labeled as “cream” or “ointment” that comes in a tub or jar. Forget the term “moisturizing lotion;” this is sales lingo to appeal to more consumers.



Thanks to Columbia Skin Clinic’s Dr. Laws for providing this practical advice on how to heal dry skin.

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