As humidity drops and heaters crank up, "winter itch" creeps in, and men are two to three times more likely to suffer from dry skin than women because they're simply less likely to do what it takes to keep their skin hydrated. "Guys think, I'll just drink more water," says Dr. Casey Gallagher, a dermatologist in Boulder, Colorado. "It's a common misconception that it makes a difference — it doesn't." But these four changes to your daily routine will.
1. Avoid hot showers
Common Mistake: Long, hot showers strip the skin of essential natural oils that keep skin hydrated in the winter. Chlorinated water in hot tubs is especially bad.
Solution: "Take short, warm showers," says Gallagher. That means as cool as you can stand. "It doesn't make me superpopular with my patients when I tell them this, but it's so important."
2. Use soap sparingly
Common Mistake: Most soaps are too harsh and loaded with surfactants that remove the protective oils our skin produces. Watch out for brands that contain lye, artificial scents (e.g., pineapple tropical coconut breezy mist), and antibacterial agents like triclosan.
Solution: Wash strategically. "You don't need to soap yourself up from head to toe like the actors do in commercials," says Dr. Robert Dellavalle, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado–Denver's School of Medicine. Aim for the areas that tend to smell — the underarms, groin, and feet — and steer clear of the lower legs and abdomen, the most commonly dry spots. If you have an itchy scalp, try shampooing just once a week.
3. Buy a better moisturizer
Common Mistake: When your skin does dry out, there's only one treatment: moisturizer, but many creams are too thin to lock in moisture. Most lotions are also loaded with irritating additives like fragrance and vitamin E, which is responsible for many allergic reactions, according to Dellavalle.
Solution: Moisturizer should be so thick it needs to be squeezed or scooped out of its container (not pumped) to seal in moisture. Generally, the fewer ingredients, the better.
Common Mistake: Often worse than harsh outdoor winter weather is cranking the heater in your home or office. Indoor heating dries air, and your skin.
Solution: A humidifier can raise indoor humidity, but if you don't wash it weekly, the device can also harbor bacteria that cause flu-like symptoms. Another option is adding houseplants to your indoor environment, according to Gallagher. Think about it this way: When you pour two liters of water into your hydrangea, it has to go somewhere — it both evaporates and is exhaled by the plant.