Dermatologist offers tips on how to prevent, treat dry skin

Along with winter comes dry, itchy skin that can crack and become painful.

Dr. Lee Bittenbender, a dermatologist and owner of the Dermatology Center of Lawrence, said it’s a common problem and there are several factors that contribute to the dryness: cold weather and low humidity, overuse of soap, and genetics.

“Some people tend to have a drier, more sensitive skin and that’s the way they are made. It’s partially genetics and we can’t change that,” he said.

But there are many things we can do. Among Bittenbender’s suggestions:

• Don’t take long, hot showers or baths. “The hotter the water, the longer you are in it and the more soap you use — the drier you are going to tend to be,” he said.

• Don’t soap up all over the body. He tells his patients to use any brand of soap that they like, but to just use it on the stinky parts like the underarms and groin area.

• Use oil before drying off. He said before you grab a towel, put any kind of oil — bath, baby or mineral — on your wet skin and then pat dry with the towel. He said oil works better than lotion. Also, when people use oil in their bath water, most of it goes down the drain and only a little stays on their skin and some sticks to the side of the tub which can be dangerous because it makes it slippery.

• Two-glove technique. When washing dishes, preparing food or cleaning bathrooms, he recommends wearing two gloves. First, put on thin cotton Dermal gloves. They are available at most pharmacies and cost less than $5. Then, put a rubber glove on over the Dermal glove. “The goal would be to have a clean, dry surface next to your hands. If you only use rubber gloves, in time the lining gets dirty, your hands perspire, you splash a little water in there and then the next thing you know: You’ve got a wet, dirty lining next to the skin you’re trying to protect,” he said.

• Wear gloves and other protective clothing outdoors. They help protect your skin from the wind, cold and wetness.

• Hand washing. Unless you are a nurse, he said, you probably don’t need to wash your hands more than 30 times a day. “Sometimes, I think people get kind of compulsive about washing their hands and may overdue it,” he said.

When it comes to hand washing, he said it’s important to get them completely dry and then immediately put a squirt of moisturizer on them. “The skin will absorb some moisture when you wash and then if you can put on a moisturizer, it helps to seal it in,” Bittenbender said.

He said it doesn’t matter if there’s lotion in the soap or not because the soap is being used to get rid of dirt and then it goes down the drain.

• Lotions. Bittenbender said there are a lot of products on the market and all of them work just as well as the other. Theoretically, he said the ones that contain ammonium lactate are better. A couple that he recommends are Lac-Hydrin and AmLactin. “It’s really a matter of personal preference,” he said.

• Antibacterial gels. The popular gels are good at getting rid of bacteria, but they have a very high percentage of alcohol in them, so they tend to dry skin.

• Medications. If skin gets really dry, red and cracked, he said you can try an over-the-counter 1 percent hydrocortisone cream, but it probably won’t be strong enough. He said most likely you will need a prescription cortisone cream. He said these creams are healing ointments that have the same texture as vaseline.

• Painful cracks. If someone’s skin has a crack, he said you can use super glue on them, but you have to be careful and have someone help you. “Ideally, you pinch the fissure together and then put super glue on there to try to hold it,” he said. “Now, if you get sloppy, you could end up gluing your finger together. So, you want to be really careful in doing that. But, sometimes that is helpful.”

By Karrey Britt

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