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W - Dry Ideas

1170284875article_web.jpg In winter's air and freezing temperatures, using the right moisturizer matters. While it's hard to imagine anyone choosing to negotiate snowdrifts in sandals and a sundress, many women do the equivalent when it comes to their skin: They face the elements with complexions outfitted for August. Winter's whipping winds, arid air and bone-chilling temperatures necessitate more than an ankle-skimming coat. A serious skin-care strategy is in order. Darrell Rigel, a New York dermatologist, says that about 25 percent of the patients he sees in January, February and March complain of eczema, the inflammatory skin condition that causes red, itchy, scaly, sometimes even broken and bleeding skin. "It's not surprising," he says. "The outside air is dry, and the heated air inside buildings is even drier. If you were to take a hydrometer device that measures humidity in the air into a typical building in New York in February, the reading would show a humidity level equal to that of an Arizona desert." The unattractive sight of a face shedding foundation-covered flakes of dead skin is not the only concern here. "There's a lipid barrier in your epidermal cells that protects against the environment," says dermatologist Frederic Brandt, who has practices in New York and Florida. "Extreme dryness breaks this down, and then you're susceptible to irritation and even infection." The solution sounds simple enough: moisturizing. But according to Rigel, not all lotions are up to the task in truly blustery conditions. Only occlusive moisturizers, those with ingredients like petrolatum, mineral and vegetable oils, beeswax, shea butter and lanolin can lock moisture into the skin while physically preventing the outside air from penetrating pores. The godfather of such potions is Vaseline, which, as most any dermatologist will tell you, locks in moisture better than anything else. But no one wants to walk around with a greasy, sticky face, and, as Rigel points out, "even though Vaseline is ideal from a moisturizing point of view, it can cause breakouts." With that in mind, cosmetics companies have long been trying to capture the hydrating properties of petroleum jelly in a more wearable form. La Mer's much beloved Crème, which contains petrolatum (the main ingredient in Vaseline) as well as mineral oil, comes close, according to Brandt. And this season, a horde of new occlusive creams, some of which combine moisture sealers with complexion-calming and anti-aging ingredients, join its ranks. But even the most advanced occlusive formulas can be difficult to tolerate during the day. The very balminess that makes them effective also makes them a less than ideal base for makeup. Even without makeup, the ultra dewy sheen they impart is not always flattering. The best strategy, according to Brandt, is to use an occlusive at night and a lighter lotion containing humectant ingredients like glycerin, honey or hyaluronic acid for daytime. Rather than forming a physical barrier that locks in moisture and keeps out cold, dry air, humectants draw moisture from skin's deeper layers to its surface while also sucking water molecules from the air into the skin. Both actions help stave off the redness and flakes that signal an over dry complexion. If keeping the difference between hyaluronic acid and lanolin straight has already begun to trigger seasonal affective disorder, Rigel suggests following an easy rule of thumb. "An ointment is better than a cream, which is better than a lotion, which is better than a gel," he says. In winter, unless you have severely oily skin, you need to trade up. Just as important as pinpointing the right product, is knowing when to apply it. Stephen Webster, a dermatologist in La Crosse, Wisconsin (where the average January low is around 5 degrees Fahrenheit), gives his patients three minutes between washing and moisturizing. "The goal is to apply it while still wet so that some of the water stays in the skin," he says. He also recommends avoiding harsh soap and scalding showers, both of which strip skin of its naturally produced oils. And if all else fails, there's always Presidents' Day weekend in steamy St. Earths. -DANIELLE STEIN

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