woman with dry skin putting on moisturizerQ: I have a bathroom counter filled with moisturizers, toners, eye creams, anti-wrinkle serums and sunscreen, and still my skin is really dry. I have a friend who suggests that I shower less during the winter, but I’m not quite ready to go that green. How can I get through the winter without feeling like an alligator?

A: Plenty of skincare products cluttered my desk when I worked as shopping editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Years later, I still have a hard time resisting ads that tout the latest and greatest tools to fight dry skin. But through trial and error, I finally have streamlined my skincare routine.

With advice from Dr. Corey L. Hartman, a board-certified dermatologist with Skin Wellness Center of Alabama, I offer these time-tested tips to help winterize your skin:

Read the label

When patients come to the Skin Wellness Center, Hartman typically starts by asking what products they use. Silky, sweet-smelling lotions and creams often are the culprits behind skin irritation, thanks to a litany of dyes, perfumes and preservatives.

“They put those chemicals in products these days to stabilize them, or prevent them from becoming infested with bacteria or make them feel good to the touch,” Hartman says. “Those things can have an impact that is negative.”

If you have sensitive skin, avoid lotion that contains added fragrance. Paraben, a preservative typically listed as methylparaben, propylparaben, or butylparaben, also has come under scrutiny in recent years because the chemical acts similarly to estrogen, potentially disrupting hormone levels in the body.

To decode the list of chemicals in your skincare products, or find suitable replacements, check out the Skin Deep cosmetic safety database by Environmental Working Group (EWG). The Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit organization monitors the presence of potentially hazardous chemicals in everyday household products. Their popular database lists and ranks ingredients based on potential health risks. Be sure to check your bath products as well.

“Liquid soaps have preservatives to keep them in that liquid form,” Hartman says. “Also, people tend to use too much liquid soap and body wash compared to bar soap.”

If your shower gel comes loaded with preservatives or drying agents, it’s time for an upgrade. I’ve always been a fan of bar soap; it lasts longer and costs less than liquid shower soap. Play it safe and opt for products that contain little or no fragrance or parabens. Hartman suggests lines like Burt’s Bees, Cetaphil or Vanicream, which are available at most drugstores.

Wear a heavy coat

“When seasons change and air gets drier, you have to alter your regimen to handle that change in the environment,” Hartman says. “Switch from lotion to a body cream during the winter. It’s heavier and will stick around a little bit longer.”

Hartman adds that ointments or oil-based solutions have more staying power on dry skin, providing more relief than water-based moisturizers. My barrier of choice is thick, creamy, unrefined organic coconut oil. Since dry skin is more prone to wrinkles, I slather on the coconut oil and let it sink in while I get dressed. A tub of this all-natural body butter lasts for months and reminds me of my great-aunt’s homespun approach to skincare.

Streamline your routine

It may be time to reduce the list of tools in your skincare arsenal. Cosmetics companies do a great job convincing us that proper skincare requires several products, but some items may limit the benefits of others. “If you do a three-step program you are doing something wrong,” Hartman says. “Toner dries skin, moisturizer corrects dry skin — you don’t need both.”

Hartman offers this streamlined approach to healthy skin: gentle cleansing, weekly exfoliation and sun protection. I use my favorite bar of soap and a rough washcloth to tackle the first two steps. (MNN has a foolproof exfoliant recipe for those who prefer to whip up their own mixture.) As for the sunscreen, mine spends more time in a bathroom drawer than on my skin. Hartman warns that sun protection, even during winter months, is a vital step to protect our skin. Save time and save a step by selecting a thick moisturizer that contains sunscreen. Then, Hartman suggests focusing on just one issue, such as tackling fine lines or uneven skin tone. Moisturizing at bedtime also ranks high on the to-do list.

Water works

The New York Times generated plenty of buzz recently with an article about people who conserve water and preserve their skin’s natural oils by showering fewer than three or four times a week. While this may be easier to pull off during winter months, Hartman says that daily showers are not the cause of dry skin. Again, take a careful look at the products you use.

“Skin holds on to its water by maintaining a good barrier. Cared for correctly it will keep water in the skin,” he says. “When air is drier, it’s easier to lose hydration.”

In addition to adding a proper barrier of moisturizer, be sure to care for skin while it’s wet. Avoid super-hot showers and pat damp skin with the towel rather than rubbing the water away. Hartman adds that consuming water doesn’t necessarily add to skin’s moisture.

“That’s a safely guarded secret among dermatologists: Water intake doesn’t contribute to skin hydration. It’s more a matter of direct contact to the skin.”

In other words, invest in a low-flow showerhead and some fluffy towels. But first, it’s time to recycle all those old cosmetics bottles!

Inset photo: Jupiterimages

How can I get through the winter without getting dry skin?
Less can be more when it comes to taking care of your skin. Here's how to get through the winter without feeling like an alligator