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If your skin is often dry, you’re not alone. Wind, sun and dry indoor air all conspire to suck the moisture out of skin leaving it dry, cracked, and scaly. Cheeks, arms, and legs have almost no sebaceous oil glands and are therefore often dry.  Since the skin on your hands is thinner than in other places it needs extra protection and care.

To keep your skin smooth and hydrated, follow these simple steps daily.

1. Avoid taking long hot baths or showers, or using saunas, during the winter months. Hot water can rob the skin of its moisture. Instead, use moderate-temperature water for shorter periods of time.

2. If you take a bath, add a few drops of essential oil to the water to help moisturize the skin. Jasmine, chamomile, or ylang-ylang is good for pittas; neroli, lemon, or geranium is optimal for vatas; and rosemary, peppermint, or clary sage is ideal for kaphas.

3. Lubricate skin with essential oils or pure cocoa butter after showering or bathing. Cocoa butter is a natural alternative to petroleum-based moisturizers. Apply the oils or moisturizer to the skin when it’s slightly damp. That way, moisture becomes trapped in the skin rather than evaporating in the air.

4. Exfoliate dry skin with a gentle body scrub as often as needed. Two to three times weekly should be plenty. Cox suggests grinding up one-half cup of pine nuts in a blender or food processor and mixing it with two tablespoons of light oil. Then rub the mixture all over your body in gentle circular motions, and rinse off.

5. Use a humidifier to keep moisture in your home and office air, or keep a bowl of water on your radiators to add moisture to the air. The higher the heat indoors, the less humidity there will be. (It’s the humidity that helps keep skin from drying out.)

6. Check the labels on your skincare products, and avoid toners and other products that contain alcohol, which can dry out the skin. Opt instead for products that contain less-drying astringent ingredients such as witch hazel.

Relax into a Healthy Complexion

Sometimes skin dryness is attributed to more than just a seasonal change. When it’s red, itchy, and irritated despite daily care, you may have a chronic skin condition. The most common ones—eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea—are triggered by dosha imbalances. (Eczema and psoriasis can be triggered by an imbalance of vata and pitta, while rosacea is the result of a pitta imbalance.) And all are aggravated by stress. Stress aggravates/increases vata (the dosha most prone to dry, itchy skin), thereby increasing symptoms of that imbalance. To help keep these skin conditions under control, practice relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and tai chi regularly. A study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Stress Reduction Clinic, in Worcester, found that when added to a treatment regimen, meditation helped psoriasis clear up more quickly.

Skin Food

No matter how well you take care of your skin during the winter months, if you’re not eating the right foods your skin still won’t be soft, smooth, and healthy-looking. What you need:

  • Drink at least nine cups of hydrating fluids daily (including water). Coffee, tea, and soda don’t count. (Caffeinated drinks are diuretics, meaning they can trigger the body to eliminate water.)
  • Indulge in watery foods, such as soups—and avoid dry, crunchy, salty foods as often as possible. Dry foods may help further dehydrate the skin.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough good fats like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet (not the deep-fried, junk-food kind). These omega fatty acids are found in flaxseed oil, walnuts and walnut oil (omega-3), evening primrose oil, borage oil, and black currant oil (omega-6). Also important is vitamin E (you need at least 400 IU daily). A diet that’s too low in fat—particularly these essential fatty acids—will result in skin that’s lackluster, dry, and prone to chronic skin problems such as eczema.

Got Dry, Itchy Skin?

When your skin is dry and itchy—and in need of some relief—add some licorice tea to your bathwater, suggests Pratima Raichur, author of Absolute Beauty(HarperPerennial, 1997). The licorice acts as a natural cortisone treatment. You can also add neem or comfrey decoctions (tea) to bathwater, as they can also help soothe the skin.

Tips for Lips (and Cuticles)

Both the lips and cuticles can get dry and scaly during the winter months. To keep lips soft, dry brush them several times a week with a toothbrush; doing so helps exfoliate the dry skin. Then apply, as often as needed, vitamin E oil, unsalted butter, or ghee directly to the lips. For cuticles, soak them for 5 to 10 minutes daily (or several times weekly) in olive oil.