Has your skin become tight, dry and maybe itchy? Yep, your skin is under attack. Welcome to winter, where the temperature outside drops and the heating goes up in our homes, offices, stores, restaurants, cars — everywhere! This then causes the moisture to evaporate from the air and our skin. Add in the abundance of sunshine here in San Antonio, always the No. 1 culprit for drying and damaging our skin.

SO, WHAT DO WE DO TO FIGHT BACK?

According to dermatologist Elizabeth Loudon-Calderon, M.D., the two most important approaches are replacing the moisture and using sunscreen. She cautions us not to use soaps because they wash away important lipids from ourskin. If you feel you need to use soap, choose a moisturizing product like Cetaphil or Dove, then apply a moisturizer on your still damp skin. Over-the-counter moisturizers you might try include Lubriderm, Cetaphil or Keri. Creams are better than lotions, since they stay on longer, contain less water and seal in the moisture better. Because water dehydrates the skin, rather than hydrating, as you might think, Dr. Loudon-Calderon’s mantra for bathing in the shower or the tub is: Not too long. Not too hot. Not too often. If you do not require a prescription for your particular skin needs, you might want to consider some of Dr. Loudon- Calderon’s own extensive line of skin care products, which contain collagen, algae peptides, vitamin C, glycolic acid and many other proven ingredients. Her lipid drops are very popular. You can learn all about her products at her Web site, www.TheSkinMD.com.

Dermatologist Elizabeth Tichy, M.D., has a three-minute rule … you need to apply your moisturizer within three minutes after getting out of the shower. A few more over-the-counter moisturizers to try are Eucerin and Nivea creams and Aveeno lotion (because it’s thicker than most lotions). Look for alpha hydroxy acids like lactic acid or urea in the list of ingredients. Dr. Tichy doesn’t recommend the use of products with fragrances and a high water content. The alcohol in fragrances can cause dryness, and the water dilutes the lotions, preventing them from staying on as long. Be sure to use products containing SPF-15 or higher, she cautions, particularly if you snow ski. Your lips and skin must be protected even more with higher SPFs because of the high altitude and the sun reflecting off the snow.

If your dry skin itches daily or keeps you up at night, or if you develop a rash, please see a doctor. There are prescription medicines available to give you relief and help heal your skin. Jutta Beck of Jutta Beck Skin Care Institute has been a professional in the skin care business for many years — as a matter of fact; she’s now providing skin care for the grandchildren of some of her clients! She agrees that soap and water are drying to the skin, and damage from the sun can absolutely be our skin’s worst enemy. She wants us to remember how important our genes are in our overall skin condition. Jutta uses only products containing natural ingredients. These include algae, seaweed, vitamins, seed extracts and fatty acids. The products are made by Janssen Cosmeceuticals of Germany and are sold only in professional skin care salons. They have no preservatives and are germ-free. Her husband,Edmond, is the regional distributor of Janssen Cosmeceuticals. Jutta says her little green heart-shaped packets containing natural moisturizers are perfect for traveling — no broken containers or leakage. Just slip a few in your pocket to use during your trip. After all, skin care is forever.

TRY A SPA

If you like to take advantage of more than one service in a spa-like atmosphere, the Skin Renewal Center in New Braunfels can accommodate you. There you will find the Image skin care line,made in Houston. These products arebroken down into three product groups. One is for aging and sun-damaged skin.Another is for dry and sensitive skin. The last is for oily and acne-prone skin. Also offered are La Bella Donna cosmetics. These are described as mineralsthat behave like makeup, and they contain SPF-15 nonchemical sun block and are free of FD&C dyes, oil, talc, alcohol or fragrance.

In addition to laser treatments, Skin Concepts and ReGeneration and others in San Antonio offer hydrating facials. Licensed aestheticians perform a deep cleansing or microdermabrasion to rid the skin of dead cells, followed by a facial massage and ending with a super-moisturizing hydrating mask. Of course, many local day spas offer a selection of facial and skin treatments as well.

Patricia Garcia, owner of Pipa’s Skin Essentials, recently relocated from Chicago, so she knows cold weather. Her main goal is to educate people about skin care. She believes parents should start training their children to wear sun block from a very young age. Since skin is the largest organ in the body, Patricia believes in drinking lots of water to hydrate the skin from the inside, in addition to moisturizing the outer layers. (Coffee does not count as part of the daily intake of water.)

She reminds us to be sure to use eye cream to hydrate the area around the eyes, since there are no oil glands there. Sampar skin products, made in France and containing both shea butter and almond oil for ultra hydration, are available at Pipa’s.

Continuing with the theme of threes, Clinique, a division of Estee Lauder, also offers three different formulas for three skin types. Literature for the Super Defense Triple Action Moisturizer with SPF-25 claims it will moisturize, protect from UV rays and neutralize the effects of sun damage and pollution from the environment with antioxidants. When introduced in 1968, Clinique products were the first cosmetics to be dermatologist-guided, allergy-tested and fragrance-free.

Another division of Estee Lauder, Origins, has teamed up with Dr. Andrew Weil to create skin care products

that bear his name on their label. Weil, a holistic health expert, best-selling author and professor of medicine at the University of Arizona, advocates eating foods like nuts and wild Alaskan salmon containing wonderful Omega3 fatty acids and blueberries loaded with antioxidants for your skin and health in general.

Some of us simply like the names of products. For example, Philosophy, whose philosophy is this: Where there is hope, there can be faith. Where there is faith, miracles can occur. So you’ll find labels like Hope in a jar, When Hope is not enough and Hope and a Prayer.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a product from the sea that still causes a buzz among its many longtime users — Crème de La Mer moisturizing cream. This legendary cream was created by an aerospace physicist over 40 years ago and today is found in high-end department stores.

And wouldn’t we all like to have delicious, delightful, sensuous and soft LIPS? Dry air and cold, windy weather affect our lips, maybe even more so than other areas. After all, they’re just hanging out there, unprotected. We are responsible for their protection. Whether you use a balm, salve or cream, make sure it contains a highnumbered SPF. Again, this becomes even more important if you snow ski, because of the high altitude and the sun reflecting off the snow.

GO NATURAL

Some herbal remedies for dry skin, provided by Reader’s Digest at www.rd.com, include the use of fresh gel from the aloe vera plant and a facial mask made from pureed avocado pulp. Just pat it on your face and leave it on for 20-30 minutes.

Home remedies include Vaseline for your lips and sleeping in socks and gloves on your moisturized feet and hands. Instead of washing your face, try cleaning it with Omega-3 oil or pure almond oil, found in health food stores, mixed with a little warm water in your hands. Massage your face, and then wipe with a clean cloth. And then — you guessed it — smooth on moisturizer. You could also steam your face over hot water, draping a towel over the sides of your head to contain the steam. And consider placing a humidifier in your room.

To get the most bang for your buck when shopping for over-the-counter moisturizers, be sure water is not listed first because ingredients are listed first to last to show the highest to lowest percentage in a product. Look for high content of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), including glycolic and lactic acids; a sunscreen of SPF-15 or higher; and perhaps retinol if your skin is not too sensitive. Remember, creams are thicker and richer than lotions.

Hey, what about exfoliation? While loofahs do a good job on the body, they tend to collect bacteria because they’re hard to clean. Then there are those “net” balls and “rough” gloves that can be tossed into the washing machine along with your towels. As for exfoliating the face, skin care professionals have different opinions. Some say using the liquid or soap bar exfoliants is OK. Others say they are not really necessary and that they can actually tear the skin if they contain hard granules.

According to the National Institute on Aging, the loss of sweat and oil glands as we age (who knew?) may worsen dry skin, along with dehydration, sun exposure, smoking and stress. Dry skin can be blamed for sleep disturbances and irritability. It can even be a sign of diabetes or kidney disease. As if that were not enough, ibuprofen and some prescription medicines can make the itching worse. Again, if your skin is very dry and itchy, see a doctor. Meanwhile, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.