Each week, Health and Beauty Expert Sue Chungwill discuss skin health topics suggested by members of the HealthCentral community. To ask Sue a question, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
Reader's Question: I know dry skin is supposed to be a winter problem, but my time in the sun and at the beach and pool are making my skin flaky. What can I do about this without avoiding summer activities completely?
Sue's Response: It seems counterintuitive that water dries out skin. Water makes up 60 percent of our bodies. Doctors tell us to drink plenty of it every day. So if water _in_side our bodies keeps us hydrated, why does water _out_side our bodies make us dry?
The fact of the matter is that our bodies are not meant to stay in water for prolonged periods of time. Our skin maintains a balance with our natural (dry) environment. When we spend a lot of time in the water and then get out, the water evaporates from our skin and often takes with it some of our natural moisture. In addition, the salt in ocean water and the chlorine in swimming pools can break down the lipid barriers of our skin, leaving our skin dry.
This doesn't mean that we all have to give up our favorite summer pastimes. While there's nothing we can do about the drying aspects of sun exposure and heat, we can use the following guidelines to ward off dryness and help soothe over-taxed skin.
Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol
While at the beach or poolside, try not to indulge in that fruity margarita or iced coffee. While they might seem relaxing, caffeine and alcohol both cause dehydration. We think we're introducing cool liquids into our bodies, but these substances are both diuretics, which promote the excretion of water from the body. If you suffer from dry skin, don't aggravate the situation with caffeinated sodas, alcohol or coffee.
Use a Shielding Lotion
A shielding lotion is applied before jumping into the pool or wading into the ocean. These products usually contain a high amount of silicone, which protects the lipid barrier and also delivers moisturizing oils to the skin. They are also hydrophobic and repel water. Try Skin MD Natural Shielding Lotion (http://www.skinmdnatural.com/) or Gloves In A Bottle (http://www.glovesinabottle.com/).
Towel Off Thoroughly and Immediately
After your dip, towel off immediately. Gently pat the towel over your entire body, paying attention to areas that tend to get dry. By absorbing the water before it has a chance to evaporate, you can head off some dryness. You can also try using a super-absorbent microfiber towel from Aquis (http://www.britanne.com/) or Micronet (http://www.leisurepro.com/). These also provide the added benefit of drying faster (no more carrying around wet towels in your tote bags).
Exfoliate, Then Moisturize
Before you moisturize your skin, it's important to remove the dead layer of skin cells. This will allow your skin to absorb the nutrients in the moisturizer more effectively. However, go gentle on the exfoliation. While it's tempting to try and scrub off those flaky patches, this will only make things worse. Dry skin is damaged skin and needs to be treated with care. If you find salt or sugar scrubs too rough, opt for gentler synthetic beads that will exfoliate with less force. A good example is Dermadoctor's KP Duty Body Scrub (http://www.dermadoctor.com/).
Drink Water, Wear Sunscreen
Last but not least, make sure you drink a lot of water when you spend a day at the beach or pool. Drink at least eight 8-oz. glasses of water. Drink even when you don't feel thirsty, since the sun can dehydrate our bodies more than we realize. Sunscreen will help you maintain healthier skin, but avoid the continuous spray bottles. These contain alcohol, which will further dry out your skin.