Scaly, itchy, tight patches and cracks in dry skin can be painful and easily irritated. Dry skin patches appear most often on our calves and shins, our thighs, on our arms, and along the sides of our belly. On our face, the cheeks seem to be the most prone to dry patches.

Skin might become dry because of an underlying condition like eczema, due to dry air conditions, or because of things we do to our skin such as scouring it with hot water and harsh soaps.

Dry skin has unique needs. You should be treating your skin to tender, loving care on a daily basis:

Shorten shower time. You would think water would be a friend to dry skin, but no such thing. Too much exposure to water, especially hot water, dehydrates the skin. Water on your skin evaporates and takes with it some of the surface oils that lubricate and protect your skin from drying. One shower a day is all you need. Curb your tub time to 15 minutes or less, and turn your tap to lukewarm rather than hot water.

Treat your skin like a delicate. When you launder delicates, you use gentle detergents and a soft touch, right? Give your skin the same delicate consideration. Limit use of soap, selecting gentle moisturizing cleansers instead. Look for fragrance- and alcohol-free formulas containing skin-supportive ingredients, including alpha-hydroxy acid and urea. Right after bathing, showering, or cleaning your skin, pat dry and smear on an oil-based cream moisturizer to prevent evaporating and over-drying. Natural soothing ingredients to watch for include avocado and shea butter. And much as you're tempted, avoid scratching itchy, dry skin.

Exfoliate the right way. Your skin cells refresh themselves every month or so, and the dead, dry cells layer up on the surface. Exfoliating lets your slough off those layers of dry skin so the fresh, new skin can shine through. For dry skin, choose a gentle grainy scrub, like one made from brown sugar, or a chemical-based exfoliant containing lactic or glycolic acid.

Humidify for beauty sleep. You might think of the humidifier as an appliance to haul out in the winter. But when you have dry skin, a humidifier can be a year-round skincare ally. Switch it on at night to infuse your bedroom with moisture and wake to skin as dewy as the morning grass. Also, turn down your thermostat at night, since hot, forced air tends to dry the skin.

Nourish your skin. Dry skin thirsts for hydration throughout the day, so sip on water, green tea, or low-sugar juices. Avoid alcohol and coffee, which both are diuretics that sap your system of water. Certain foods help to balance your skin, like foods rich in beneficial unsaturated fats - think, salmon, nuts, and flaxseed. And be sure to get plenty of vitamin A, easily found in colourful fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes and berries.

Dress right for your dry skin. Dry skin bristles at scratchy fabrics and when exposed to the elements. Shield your skin from wind and sun, and layer up in the winter to avoid having to wear skin-irritating wool. Whenever you can, dress in cottons and silks, which let your skin breathe. Wash your clothes in gentle detergents to minimize skin reactions.

Soothe the itchy spots. When your skin flares up or gets itchy, apply cool compresses and over-the-counter creams to ease inflammation. Talk to your doctor if irritation and inflammation continue or worsen despite your best efforts.

Amy Toffelmire