Wrinkles are not caused by dry skin, but by environmental damage, mainly radiation from the sun. This damage is cumulative, meaning that the total dose you have received over your lifetime determines how much damage has been done. If you tanned heavily as a child and teen, that damage is still present, so it is especially important to avoid adding insult to injury by continuing to lie in the sun or burning your skin when at a high altitude or when spring skiing.

Daily treatment with tretinoin (vitamin A acid) for a prolonged period, in the right dose, will improve the skin by repairing some of the old damage. It should be applied every night, and will result in a more even skin texture and more even pigmentation. Small wrinkles will also improve.

Since wrinkles are not caused by dry skin, moisturizers cannot prevent or treat wrinkles. Nor do creams "feed" the skin. Nutrients come to the skin the same way they do to other parts of the body, via the blood stream. Pores do not "open" and "close," nor do they "breathe." All a moisturizer can do is reduce water evaporation from the skin surface. All you need to prevent dry skin is a water-based emollient (skin softener) that does not block pores.

In the winter, expect the skin on your body to be dry. Your legs and torso have far fewer oil glands than your face, so these areas are more likely to be dry. Dry skin itches because the main function of skin is to be a barrier to the outside world, and dry skin is a less effective barrier. Soap, water and heat will more easily irritate the small nerve endings in the skin, and frequent showers and chemicals in deodorant soaps will only make matters worse.

Furnaces also dry out the air. Relatively moist air from outside loses its moisture as it is heated by a furnace to "room temperature." Therefore, try to humidify your home to the right level, about 50%. Use a simple moisturizer after your shower, while your skin is still damp.

Finally, if you smoke, quit. Smoke is as damaging to the skin as it is to other parts of the body.

Benjamin Gelfant, MD,
in association with the MediResource Clinical Team