For many of us, winter brings cold dry air that is made worse by the effects of central heating, especially if you have a forced-air furnace.

The end result can be dry skin -- sometimes dry to the point of scaly.

The clinical name for the condition is xerosis, and while most of us muddle through the winter months with a heavy reliance on skin cream, there are instances when you should seek medical attention for dry skin. According to the NIH Medline Plus online health information site, if you have itching without a visible rash, dryness and itching are preventing you from sleeping, you have open cuts from scratching and/or your home measures aren't helping, see your doctor.

For the rest of us, there are very simple steps we can take to reduce the itchiness and flaking we might be facing.

Your best defense against dry skin starts in the morning, as soon as you step into the shower. As much as possible, keep bathing to a minimum, using as little soap as possible. Limit the use of cleansers to those parts of your body that sweat the most: armpits, groin and feet. Dermatologists suggest using non-soap cleansers like Cetaphil, Spectro Gel and Aquanil or gentle soaps like Neutrogena and Dove.

Use warm water only; as cool as you can stand it is the best temperature.

Don’t scrub vigorously at your skin with a loofah while in the shower or bath. If you feel you really must remove the flaky bits, dry brush your skin with a soft bristle brush BEFORE getting into the water.

Once you get out of the shower, don't rub yourself dry! If you have to take a towel to your skin, pat gently and leave some moisture behind. Damp skin will accept moisturizers more easily and you will find relief from the itching associated with dryness.

Water-based moisturizers are really preferable, but thick, greasy moisturizers are your best friend when you have really dry skin; be aware they can stain clothes.
The most-recommended brands of lotions to try for very dry skin are Lubriderm, Eucerin and Complex 15. Last fall, I received a full-size “sample” bottle of Lubriderm’s new Skin Renewal Firming Body Moisture. This is a silicone-based product that has done wonders for my legs over this very harsh winter. Even though it is pricey, I will be buying it in the future.

Another new Lubriderm product contains oatmeal extract. Oatmeal is very soothing to the skin and many books of herbal and old-fashioned remedies include recipes for an oatmeal soak for the bath. Many Aveeno products contain oatmeal.

Should you find that creams or lotions are not enough on their own, first use a light oil designed for use on the skin like Alpha-Keri or Neutrogena Light Sesame Oil. Then put the moisturizer cream over that!
Moisturize again before going to bed and wear soft pajamas next to your skin. Flannel sheets, or old ones that are soft from washing, are kindest to a dry body.

Avoid scented products. Even if your favourite fragrance has a scented body lotion, skip it in favour of unscented. Switch to unscented laundry detergent -- you might find it makes a difference. Whenever possible, avoid fabric softeners.

Run a humidifier at home; and at work, if possible. Try to keep the temperature at home between 68F and 72F -- warmer air will exacerbate the dryness.

Finally, drink water! It helps to moisturize from the inside too.

Hopefully, these tips will help ease the itching for those of you going through a cold winter like the one we’re having here in Canada. And, just like the woman in the Lubriderm commercials, you can kiss that alligator skin goodbye!