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7 common causes of dry skin

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2. Dry air

Dry air is probably the most common cause of dry skin, especially during the winter. It draws the moisture right out of the skin. Dry skin during winter even gets its own name: winter itch.

While cold, harsh weather does dry your skin, another big problem in the winter lies indoors - the dry heat churned out by your central heating. During the summer, air conditioning can have a similar effect. To counteract the dry heat, start with a moisturiser. Turning down the heating a bit in the winter can also help.

Other dry skin care tips include using a humidifier in your bedroom, and bundling up - with hats, scarves and gloves, when you're outside.

3. Long, hot showers and baths

Prolonged exposure to water - especially hot water - can wash away the natural oils that protect your skin. If you get out of the bath or shower and your skin feels tight, it's dried out.

So what should you do? First, choose showers over baths. But that's not all. If you're accustomed to waking up in the morning with a long, languid shower, dermatologists have some brutal advice: limit showers to a few minutes and skip the hot water.

The water doesn't have to be cold, but it should be lukewarm rather than hot. Try angling the shower-head away from you - or turn it off - while you shave or soap up. It's another way of reducing the time your skin is being pounded by the water.

Afterwards, pat your body dry with a towel - rather than vigorously rubbing it - and put on a moisturiser right away.

4. Soap

Soap can quickly strip away your skin's protective oils, and we tend to use way too much of it.

Often, the only parts of the body that need any soap or cleanser at all are the face, hands, feet, groin and underarms. The rest of the body can usually just be rinsed off with water.

While our doctors - and our mothers - always told us to wash our hands frequently, that can also lead to trouble. Ironically, while done in the quest to rid ourselves of germs, excessive hand washing can dry out the skin and cause it to crack and bleed, making skin infection much more likely.

Many of us choose unwisely when we're in the soap aisle of the supermarket. We go for harsh soaps, such as deodorant or antibacterial soaps, that generate lots of lather and leave us feeling squeaky clean. Lathering from soap removes the oils from the surface of the skin and dries it out.

For dry skin care, look for milder, "fragrance-free" soaps. That's not the same as "unscented," which may still have perfumes. For many people with dry skin, the best choice is a mild skin cleanser rather than soap, experts say.

Whatever you do, don't use any harsh implements to wash yourself. Flannels, abrasive sponges or brushes can strip away that thin layer of natural oils that keep our skin moist and healthy. Using aqueous cream as soap is often recommended too.

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