Q: My skin is very dry and itchy, especially in winter. There are so many moisturizers to choose from. How do I pick one?
A: Regularly applying a good moisturizer is an important part of skin care. Moisturizers can soothe dry skin and help relieve itching. Also wrinkles will be less noticeable, even though the effect is only temporary.
Indeed, there are lots of products available. Most moisturizers contain water, glycerin, petrolatum, stearic acid, propylene glycol, and/or lanolin. Finding one that's right for you may mean trying a few different products.
Simple petroleum jelly is one of the most effective moisturizers, especially when used right after bathing to seal in moisture. It's also one of the least expensive. However, many people dislike using petroleum jelly on their faces because it looks and feels greasy.
Instead, creams and lotions that contain some water are a better choice for a facial moisturizer. Many of them are humectants. These are oil-free moisturizers that bind water to skin, so the smoothing, softening effects may last longer.
Some moisturizers contain botanical ingredients, such as jojoba oil, coconut oil, safflower oil, or linoleic acid. These ingredients tend to help maintain the skin's outer layer of keratin and keep skin supple.
Manufacturers often add cetyl alcohol, palmitic acid and/or dimethicone to moisturizers. These ingredients lend a creamy, velvety, or translucent look and feel to the product.
If you're frequently outdoors, look for a moisturizer that also provides protection from sunlight. Choose one with at least an SFF of 30 that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
Think twice if you're considering a skin toner. Many of these contain drying, irritating ingredients like alcohol or acetone. Some also contain highly acidic citrus, camphor, or menthol.
(Howard LeWine, M.D., is a practicing internist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Chief Medical Editor of Internet Publishing at Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.)
(For additional consumer health information, please visit http://www.health.harvard.edu.)
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