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Dry, flaky, dull skin isn’t pretty. It’s not healthy either. The outer layer of your skin serves as a shield against bacteria and infection-causing germs. “When it becomes brittle and cracked, you lose that protection,” explains 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. That’s why it’s smart to suss out sneaky lifestyle practices and environmental factors that can suck moisture out of your skin—and take steps to protect it. Here are six surprising skin parchers to watch out for:
Cigarette smoking. As if stinky breath, stained teeth and the risk of serious lung damage weren’t enough, lighting up can also wreak havoc on skin—on the inside, by depriving its outer layers of oxygen and vital nutrients, damaging DNA and causing premature wrinkling, and on the outside, by sapping moisture from the surface. The best solution: Kick the habit.
Hot baths. A long soak in a steamy tub may seem like a delicious luxury, especially when the weather outside is frigid, but it will seriously deplete your skin of moisture. “Take showers or cut bath time down to a bare minimum, keep the water warm, not hot, and cover your body from neck to toes with a rich body lotion as soon as you get out of the shower, while your skin is still damp,” says Dr. Marmur.
Electric blankets. Sure, an electric blanket can make your bed nice and toasty on cold winter nights, but the dry heat it produces will suck the moisture right out of your skin while you’re sleeping, says Barbara R. Reed, M.D., a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver. Keep cozy with layers of soft blankets made of fleece or cotton—wool’s scratchy texture will irritate chapped skin. Running a cool-mist humidifier in your bedroom will also help skin stay hydrated while you snooze.
Air travel. The air inside a pressurized airplane cabin is so low in humidity that you’ll notice your lips and skin getting tight almost as soon as you stow away your carry-on. Even your eyes will feel dry. Slather your face and hands with moisturizer and coat your kisser with lip balm preflight. Once you’re airborne, stay hydrated by frequently sipping water (not a cocktail—alcohol is dehydrating), passing on the salty pretzels (bring along a juicy apple or some grapes if you need to nibble) and reapplying that moisturizer and lip balm as needed.
Menopause. As menopause progresses, estrogen production regresses, causing a decline in the skin’s ability both to generate natural oils and collagen and hang on to moisture. Your best defense against the skin-parching effects of this unavoidable life change: Step up your moisturizing efforts from head to toe. Use thicker body creams, opt for face creams that include anti-aging ingredients such as retinol and vitamin C, and exfoliate: Sloughing off dead skin cells will make it easier for moisturizers to penetrate.
Certain health conditions. Diabetes, thyroid disorders, kidney disease and some cancers cause dry skin, as do a number of medications, including antihistamines, diuretics, some antidepressants and cholesterol-lowering drugs. When dry skin associated with any of these becomes uncomfortable and heavy-duty moisturizers don’t bring relief, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to tweak your treatment or change your prescription. For more ways to counter dry skin from head to toe, click here.