If you have patches of dry skin to begin with, how often you bathe and how you do it can make a big difference. Too frequent bathing, particularly if using hot water and a strong soap, can aggravate dry skin.
Bathing two or three times weekly in tepid water, using a mild soap or cleanser, and preferably followed by the application of a moisturizing cream or ointment soon afterwards – but not a lotion – may not pose a problem for your skin.
Normal skin is somewhat like a well-greased frying pan. Skin generates fat (lipids) for its outermost layer, the stratum corneum, in order to waterproof us – that is, to produce our skin’s permeability barrier. We all know that if you want to clean a frying pan of all of its grease, you need to plunge it into hot water, and scrub it using a generous amount of dish soap or detergent.
Unfortunately, many of us treat our skin just as if it were a greasy frying pan.
We take showers or baths using water as hot as we can tolerate, and then we scrub our skin vigorously with a soapy cloth. While this is an effective means to remove dirt and other accumulated debris, it also extracts some of the protective lipids from our stratum corneum. As our stratum corneum becomes deficient in these natural oils or ‘lipids’, it gets even dryer. And as a result, if our skin tends to be dry in the first place, bathing like this can make it worse.
A gentle skin care routine – cooler water, milder cleanser, and the use of a moisturizer afterwards – is especially important for people with skin conditions like eczema or atopic dermatitis, and for seniors, all of whom are particularly prone to problematic dry skin. Most lotions are mostly water and continue too little lipid or other moisturizing contents to be effective. For this reason, in most cases a cream or ointment is a better choice for a moisturizer.
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