Skin – Take Care of It. You Need It.

Skin is the largest organ of the body. If laid out flat, the skin of a 150 pound adult would be about two square yards. Nails are a type of skin. Hair is a type of skin. Skin protects the internal organs of our bodies, helps us regulate body temperature, protects us from the elements and from bacteria, keeps good things, like blood and fluid, inside and gives us another sense with which to interact with the environment.

So, skin is important. But skin can become dry and uncomfortable, especially in conditions of low humidity, such as in heated houses in cold weather. Aging skin is prone to dryness. Dry skin is prone to itchiness and cracking. It’s more than a beauty problem!

There are some basic measures you can take to keep your skin moist. Don’t stay in the shower or bath longer than necessary to clean your skin. Use warm, not hot, water. Avoid harsh and perfumed soaps. Pat your skin dry rather than rubbing it. Most importantly, leave your skin a little moist and apply a moisturizer immediately. The moisturizer will keep in the moisture you have added to your skin by bathing.

There are three basic kinds of moisturizers: ointments, creams and lotions. They are effective in just that order. Ointments are thick and greasy, not pleasant to use during the day, but very effective at keeping skin moist. However, ointments should not be used on the skin of the face, only on the lips. Creams are next in line for effectiveness. The least effective are lotions. Lotions have to be re-applied most often and ointments least often. Use gentle moisturizers! The simpler product is often the best.

Try to add moisture to the air in your home. A humidifier is very good but so are plants. Keep you plants well-fed and well-watered and they will return the favor by moisturizing the air. Give them and you an extra boost by putting the plants in a dish on a layer of stones. Add water to the dish (not high enough to touch the pot) and keep some water in the dish at all times. Natural humidification!

Dry skin is uncomfortable and often unsightly. But, once again, prevention is better than treatment.

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Mary Lou Bernardo, PhD, MSN

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