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Which Type of Lotion Should I Use on Dry, Cracked Skin in the Winter?

Suffering from dry, cracked skin? We can help. Here's what type of moisturizers can help you this winter

Here's what to look for in products that will combat your cracked skin

There are plenty of things to look forward to when winter arrives. Everything about the holiday season. Snow (for some of you). Egg nog. A warm, crackling fire. Hot cocoa. Skiing. Egg nog. One thing that people do not look forward to, however (besides the in-laws' prolonged holiday visit), is dry, cracking skin.

It's inevitable...the cold, dry air leads to dry, cracked skin. And that dryness and cracking can become itchy and raw, which leads to rubbing, which leads to even more irritation. It's a vicious cycle. Unless, that is, you properly moisturize. So, what's the best remedy for that gross, wintry skin?

In Need of Repair?

Glad you asked. Lotion manufacturers saw the obvious need for lotion that was stronger and possessed more healing properties than typical hand lotion. So, many brands created cream-based lotions designed specifically to repair dry, damaged skin. A few words to look for on a bottle or jar label: intensive, healing, therapy, repair. These lotions are generally thicker and more nourishing (they're usually formulated with half water and half oil), and absorb into your skin more effectively than standard lotion without feeling heavy. The only downside to these lotions is that many tend to leave behind a greasy residue. As someone whose skin dries out like...I don't know, a prune or a desert or something else that's really dry...every winter, lotion is a must for me. But...I refuse to use lotion that makes my skin greasy. That's a deal-breaker for me. Some brands promise maximum moisturizing without the greasy residue, and I recommend giving those a try.

Ointment, Anyone?

When you hear the word "ointment," you probably think of those stinky medicated balms to help with aching joints. Or worse. But ointments are actually extremely helpful for those with dry skin. Ointments tend to be super-thick (approximately 80 percent oil and 20 percent water formulation) and are very effective moisturizers, perfect for really dry areas like elbows and feet. Skin ointments can also help relieve and prevent chapped skin during the cold months. There's also less risk that an ointment will further irritate your skin as a regular lotion might. But, they're usually greasy. Very greasy. If you have oily skin, an ointment may not be the best choice. But if you have non-oily skin and don't mind the residue, an ointment is probably your best bet for ultra-dry skin during the winter.

Is Regular Lotion the Magic Potion?

Probably not. While perfectly suitable and beneficial for everyday use most times of year, most regular moisturizing lotions aren't strong enough to help heal and protect extremely dry winter skin. Because it's formulated with the most water, regular lotion is thinner in consistency. While there are benefits to that (very light on the skin, easy to spread, least greasy of all the lotion types), it's usually just not enough to handle the extreme cases of dryness. Those with oily skin are probably best suited to use regular moisturizing lotion during the winter, but if your skin cracks during the cold months, you'll want to go with something heavier and thicker.

So, How Do I Take Care of My Skin in the Winter?

A few tips:

  1. After a bath or shower, pat (don't rub) your skin dry, and always apply moisturizer, even if it's standard moisturizing lotion. Actually, you should do this every time you shave and wash your hands, as well. Your skin needs to stay hydrated after it's been wet, and moisturizing right after you dry is always effective in trapping the moisture in your skin.
  2. Layers are your friend. After you've washed your hands or showered and applied your initial layer of lotion, wait a little while, and then apply another layer. At bedtime during the winter, apply a layer of light lotion and then top that with a heavier cream or ointment for maximum absorption and hydration while you sleep. You can even double-down and wear cotton gloves to bed after you've applied the hand cream or ointment; they'll help hold the moisture in and heal dry, cracked skin.
  3. Look for certain ingredients with moisturizing qualities in your lotions, creams, and ointments. These include olive oil, jojoba oil, shea butter, lactic acid, urea, hyaluronic acid, dimethicone, glycerin, lanolin, mineral oil, and petrolatum. These will help ensure your lotion contains maximum moisturizing properties to soothe, repair, and protect your dry, cracked skin.

While the frigid weather and dry air certainly are not dry skin's best friends, they can co-exist and even live in harmony with the right skincare regimen. Find the type and brand of moisturizer that works best for you and stick to it every day while the temperatures are low. After all, nobody wants to shake hands with an alligator.

Resources—Leaf.tv, American Academy of Dermatology, Pharmaceutical Specialties, Inc., Healthline.

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