Head-to-Toe Solutions for Dry Skin

The skin on your nose is quite different from the skin on your knees or the soles of your feet. There are more oil glands on your face, chest and back than other parts of your body, for example. So, when you’re battling dry skin, you need to choose your weapons wisely—based on the area you’re trying to hydrate. “The drier your skin, the thicker the cream you use should be,” says Barbara R. Reed. M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver. “Lotions are usually thinner than creams, and rub in faster, but they don’t stay on the skin as long .” Here’s a guide to undoing dryness from head to toe.

Chapped cheeks. Considering that you literally come face to face with the elements every day, it’s no wonder that your cheeks wind up red and dry. They are, after all, outside of the oilier “T-zone” (forehead, nose, chin) and are therefore less protected from moisture-sapping cold air, low humidity and wind. Keep cheeks hydrated by using a moisturizer that contains glycerin, which acts as both a humectant , attracting moisture to the skin, and a barrier against the elements, says Ellen Marmur, M.D., chief of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and author of Simple Skin Beauty. If you’re battling super-dry skin, look for a souped-up moisturizer—one containing shea butter, squalane, lanolin, mineral oil or combinations of these ingredients. If you’re acne-prone, use a noncomedogenic moisturizer such as Cetaphil, CeraVe or Vanicream to replenish moisture without clogging pores.

Parched lips. Show dry, cracked lips some love by slicking on a product containing petrolatum, such as Aquaphor Healing Ointment or Vaseline Petroleum Jelly. This rich emollient will seal in moisture and provide a protective barrier against the elements. Beyond that, try not to lick your lips: You’ll get some brief relief, but as the moisture you leave behind evaporates, it’ll exacerbate dryness, says Dr. Reed .

Rough knees and elbows. The skin on your elbows and knees is thicker than on other parts of your body, which makes it harder for moisturizers to penetrate. These areas also are prone to friction (think of your elbows propped on your desk all day), which further exacerbates dryness. Dab them with petroleum jelly or a thick, wax-based product such as Theraplex Emollient to lock in moisture and help heal dry, cracked skin.

Sandpapery hands. Your hands hold a dearth of oil glands, plus they’re constantly exposed to soap, water, hand sanitizer and air, so they tend to be dry in the extreme. Find a good hand cream—“a glycerin-based one might work, but if not, go for a product that contains petrolatum,” says Dr. Marmur—and slather it on after you wash your hands. For an intensely moisturizing treatment, massage a heavy cream into your hands and then slip on a pair of damp thin cotton gloves covered with a plastic bag for a few hours or overnight.

Scaly legs. Got crocodile shins? A creamy moisturizer like Nivea Creme or Aveeno Skin Relief Moisturizing Cream should make your legs look and feel human again. The trick is to slather it on right after you get out of the shower, while your skin is still damp, to seal in moisture in the upper layers of the skin, says Dr. Marmur.

Cracked feet. Thickened skin on heels, soles and other parts of the feet is really just layers upon layers of dead cells. A moisturizer that contains lactic acid, such as AmLactin Foot Cream Therapy, will literally peel those layers away to reveal the soft, new skin underneath. To tackle severe dryness and cracks, put on damp socks over a heavy layer of cream, covered with a plastic bag, and wear them overnight.

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