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10 Surprisingly Helpful Tricks to Fight Dry Skin this Fall and Winter

When there's cold air outside and heat cranking inside, you need more than a good moisturizer to keep skin soft and supple.

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Change your laundry detergent

Standard detergents and fabric softeners contain chemicals, perfumes, dyes, bleaches, and disinfectants. They may be great at cleaning, deodorizing, and loosening stains, but they can also damage and dry out your skin, especially if your skin is sensitive or prone to eczema (check out these home remedies to relieve the itch and pain of eczema and its close cousin, psoriasis). The National Eczema Association recommends switching to a fragrance-free laundry soap such as All Free Clear Liquid Detergent, which has zero dyes and fragrances and still manages to get clothes clean.

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Run a humidifier

When the indoor heat is blasting 24/7, your living space could have as little as 10 percent moisture. Running a humidifier will restore the humidity to an ideal level—between 30 and 50 percent. "Humidifiers add moisture to the air, which helps prevent your skin from drying out," says Samer Jaber, MD, of Washington Square Dermatology in Manhattan. Using a humidifier will keep the outer layer of your skin well hydrated, which minimizes water loss and also provides the protective function of filtering out allergens and germs. (These habits can make allergies worse.) Using indoor heating without a humidifier may result in the outer layer of your skin losing water faster than it can be replenished, leading to skin that feels parched.

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Avoid wearing wool

Sure, wool is a great material for winter because of its thickness and warmth, but it's also notoriously itchy and more likely to aggravate winter's dry skin than soft, breathable fabrics like cotton. If you swear by wool to keep warm, wear a thin underlayer to avoid chafing and itchiness, both of which will exacerbate dryness. (Check out how your favorite leggings can also pose an itch risk.)

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Swap lotion for ointment

Moisturizing is obviously the most direct way to hydrate skin. "The more you moisturize, the better," says Dr. Jaber. Choose a heavier formula when the temperature starts to dip. "Although you may have a favorite moisturizing lotion in the spring or summer, when picking a skin moisturizer for winter, use a thicker cream like Eucerin or an ointment like Vaseline," Dr. Jaber says. "Creams and ointments have greater oil concentrations, so they're much more effective at locking in moisture in dry environments." Here's what dermatologists do in the winter that you don't.

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Eat hydrating foods

Drinking tons of water isn't the only way to moisturize from within. Try eating a diet rich in healthy fats. Avocados are full of monounsaturated fats that help lock in moisture, and fish contain omega-3 fats, which strengthen skin cells. Dark, leafy greens are packed with omega-4 fatty acids, and also contain folates that hydrate skin. Extra virgin olive oil is another monounsaturated fat that's wonderfully moisturizing. These surprising sources of omega-3 fatty acids could add years to your life.

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Switch out your soap

Like laundry detergents, some body soaps contain a cocktail of chemicals and perfumes that can dry out your skin. So during winter, it's best to stick to simple, hydrating body washes such as Aquation Gentle Moisturizing Cleanser, which has water-binding hyaluronic acid and skin replenishing ceramides, or for those prone to dermatitis, CeraVe Eczema Soothing Body Wash, which is formulated to calm irritated skin and repair the body's natural skin barrier. Even in the mildest of winters, antibacterial soaps and cleansers that contain alcohol are incredibly harsh on skin, so skip those varieties if you want to retain your skin's natural oils. While you're at it, swap out your facial cleanser to something creamy and mild. We like Golden Door Hydrating Cleansing Milk, formulated with orange fruit extract, honey, and an ingredient derived from yogurt to hydrate and soothe dehydrated skin. Check out what your skincare routine should look like if you have dry skin.

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Resist the urge to scratch

Many people suffer from eczema and dermatitis flare-ups during fall and winter, which are just two of the many reasons you may find yourself constantly wanting to scratch. But scratching at dry skin in winter only makes it worse, perpetuating a vicious cycle of discomfort and dryness. Instead of deploying your nails to deal with itchy skin, try applying a cold compress to relieve the urge; then slick up the area with an intensive moisturizer, like CeraVe Itch Relief Moisturizing Lotion or Avene XeraCalm A.D. Lipid-Replenishing Cream. Check out the surprising signs of disease your skin can reveal.

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Shorten your showers

Long hot showers can feel heavenly when it is cold outside, but they're very drying to the skin, according to Dr. Jaber. He advises limiting shower time to less than 10 minutes, and using warm water rather than hot. "Hot water dehydrates skin and strips it of natural oils, so the longer you're in hot water, the more damage you'll see," Dr. Jaber says. Check out the other showering mistakes you're probably making.

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Put away your exfoliating tools

Stow those sonic body brushes, washcloths, loofahs, tough scrubbers, and bath sponges for winter, as they may cause irritation and inflammation to already dry skin. Similarly, when you step out of the shower, don't rub skin aggressively with a towel; pat or blot skin dry gently, and moisturize immediately. It's also a good idea to simply shower less often in winter.

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Relieve stress

Believe it or not, your mental health can impact your skin's moisture levels. A 2001 report in the Archives of Dermatology shows that during periods of stress, the skin's ability to retain water is reduced. What's more, stress can trigger outbreaks of psoriasis, eczema, and rashes, so be sure to continue participating in relaxing activities—whether you meditate, do yoga, knit scarves, or curl up with a good book—to tame tension this winter.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest