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Once upon a time, every one of us had smooth, supple and soft skin. Then along came Mother Nature and Father Time, and the two of them started to wreak havoc on our lovely baby skin. They haven’t stopped!

Dry, itchy skin is the bane of many women starting in perimenopause, and coinciding with the decline of estrogen levels. Estrogen stimulates the formation of skin-smoothing collagen and oils. The reduction of estrogen also reduces our body’s ability to retain moisture.

Besides internal factors, external factors, like winter cold and wind, can chap our entire body, regardless of how many layers of clothing we wear to protect us. Humidity, which our skin desperately needs, is obliterated by the cold temps, and the wind zaps whatever moisture is left in our skin. The forced air from indoor heating units also helps make our skin feel papery, dry, and tight.

And, did you know that many ingredients in anti-aging formulas, such as retinols and alpha-hydroxy acid, can irritate and exacerbate dry skin. “Reduce the frequency you use them from every day to every other day,” advises Dr. Amy Forman Taub, professor of dermatology at Northwestern University. “Also layer treatment products such as these over your moisturizer, instead of underneath it, to buffer their drying side effects.”

When it comes to moisturizers, those that smell wonderful have fragrances that also can irritate skin. That’s why The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying fragrance-free products over thinner lotions that include ingredients such as olive and jojoba oils. Shea and cocoa butters work well, too, as do formulas including honey and glycerin, which both trap moisture.

A long, hot shower or soak in the tub may sound heavenly after a day out in the cold, but they are not what doctors order. In fact, hot water strips the epidermis of natural oils, leading to, you guessed it, dry, itchy skin. Short (10-minute), warm-water showers are perfect, but avoid using drying deodorant soaps and cleansers with alcohol. Once out of the shower, apply body creams and lotions while your skin is damp.

Traveling to warmer climes doesn’t always solve dry skin issues, either. The cabin pressure and the dry, recirculated air are not your skin’s best friends. Applying moisturizer and hand cream before and during the flight will help. And, as much as you’d like to have a drink or two during the flight, try to refrain. Alcohol is a major dehydrating agent.

Once you arrive in your warm paradise, keep in mind that salt water and chlorine, combined with perspiration, are well-known enemies of hair, and they can be mighty irritating to the skin, too. “Shower immediately following your swim, cleansing the skin with a moisturizing body wash,” advises Schweiger Dermatology in New York.

A barefoot walk on the sand does wonders for your soul and your soles since it’s a great exfoliator for dry heels. But sand also can reflect the sun, so hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen are necessities.

Dry skin may sneak up on us all, but we can arm ourselves with the means to drive it away.

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