Dry skin bringing you down?

People usually worry about the health of their skin during the summer months, but winter weather can be just as harsh.  Frigid temperatures and harsh winds can damage skin, but there are other elements that be tough on skin - dry indoor air, humidity, and even sunburn.  Dermatologists say moisture is the key to keeping skin glowing, and they are focusing their attention on other barriers of protection to keep skin in tip-top shape.

Dara Toles has dry, scaly legs, and she walked straight through the door of a dermatologist for help.  "My skin differs from my body to my face," she said.  "My face is kind of oily, but when it gets to my arms and my legs it's pretty dry."  She said the winter months have been particularly 'rough.'  She said that during the winter her skin changes a little bit, leaving her downright irritated.  Now, her skin is being treated with the 'skin barrier' in mind.  Think of the 'skin barrier' as an envelope that holds everything inside your body.

Doctor Ranella Hirsch is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology - she compares the barrier to a picket fence.  "You want to keep the bad stuff out, let the good stuff in," she said.  Protecting this skin barrier is more important than ever, and is crucial to the overall management of overall health.

Dr. Richard Fried with the American Acne and Rosacea Society says that when the barrier is functioning properly skin cells are plump and hydrated - forming a tight seal.  "It's keeping the moisture in the skin where it belongs," he said.  He says healthy skin cells fight of allergens and help to prevent infection.  However, when the barrier is damaged in any way - such as with dry skin or acne - skin cells will de-hydrate.  "Instead of being plump, the skin cells begin to separate and shrink, creating gaps that irritants, allergens and infectious material can freely penetrate."

Infectious material such as staph and herpes simplex can penetrate damaged skin and also inflame existing conditions such as psoriasis, acne, and eczema.  But, there is good news.  There are easy ways to protect skin.  "Some of the techniques that we talk about with patients are making sure not to use any products that strip the skin," said Fried.  "So we tend to avoid using any perfumed products, scratchy sort of scrubs."

Moisturizing is important, and a variety of products containing 'ceramides' can be found at the local drug store.  Ceramides allow skin to stay hydrated and function properly.  A healthy diet and daily exercise also are key.  "We also recommend shorter showers - not a hot bath.  Hot baths tend to take the little bit of moisture the skin has and actually remove it."

If you are concerned about dry skin and over-the-counter remedies are not working, experts say you should schedule an appointment with a dermatologist.