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Natural Dry Skin Remedies

Updated on February 4, 2015

Nobody Likes Dry Skin

I live in Vancouver, which means usually dry winters aren't a big problem - we're called the "wet coast" for a reason. However, lately the winters have been getting dryer (thanks, I'm guessing, to climate change) and I've started to understand what people are talking about with "winter dry skin". For me, it's my hands, cuticles, and elbows that are taking the biggest hit: dry, flaky, tight, scaly, and uncomfortable. I needed help!

Here's the thing with moisturizers though: our skin is an organ, and it's a very absorptive one. Whatever you put on your skin, goes right into your body and can have a host of negative effects. From preservatives to endocrine disruptors, there's a lot of junk in those over the counter products. Plus, once you get used to the luscious feeling of natural products, manufactured products just feel weird.

Ingredients to Avoid

If you must buy manufactured products, make sure you check the ingredients list. Your best bet is to buy from a local artisan - they'll be hand making all their products and can directly answer your questions about what is in them. When you're buying in a store, however, look out for the following:

  • BHA and BHT (used as a preservative, an endocrine disruptor)
  • DEA compounds (diethanolamine - a known irritant and shown to be cancerous in clinical trials, also harmful to fish and wildlife)
  • Siloxanes (anything ending in "-siloxane" or "-methicone" - a reproductive toxicant

For more information on dangerous ingredients in a variety of beauty products, visit David Suzuki's "Dirty Dozen" list.

Knowing what's out there in the store-bought products, with a propensity to DIY everything and save some cash, I scoured the internet for the best all-natural, homemade moisturizing techniques. These are my favourite because they are quick, easy, and left my skin feeling great!

1) Oils

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I love oils! You can do so very very much with them, and they are so simple. As a moisturizer, you can really use any vegetable-based oil you like (animal oils could technically work too but tend to leave you feeling greasier as they have larger molecules that don't absorb into the skin as easily and will clog pores).

Oils have a bad rap because of our war on "oily skin". Well, as someone who suffered terrible acne through her mid-twenties and has had oily skin most of her life, let me tell you, oil is great! There's a difference between the skin-clogging nasty oil that builds up on our skin due to a mixture of make up, grime, touching our faces, and hormonal production of oil in our bodies, and a nice, clean, natural oil that you rub into your skin. My research and personal experience shows that using a clean vegetable oil provides moisture without clogging pores and leaves skin feeling great.

Here's the low-down on how different oils can work:

OLIVE OIL

This is pretty tried and true, since the beginning of time. Okay, it's probably not pre-agricultural, but the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, among others, relied heavily on olive oil for health and beauty.

Olive oil is the base ingredient in many artisanal moisturizers for a reason. First of all, it's plentiful and inexpensive. You probably already have it in your kitchen. It contains vitamins A and E, two known antioxidants that are generally put into manufactured products for their anti-aging benefits. It is a heavier oil, and so penetrates deeply into your skin and can really help take care of serious dry skin issues. It's also recommended as a home remedy for eczema and psoriasis.

I wouldn't recommend using olive oil on the face, unless you're steaming it off with the Oil Method of Skin Care, because it is heavier. On your hands and body, however, go nuts!

Technique: all you have to do is pour some oil into your hand and rub it in wherever you have dry skin. I'd start pretty light - a little goes a long way, and it's easy to overdo it. Over doing it with oil means that you have a bunch of oil sitting on your skin. This might be a great intensive treatment, but you probably want to get on with your day.

I like to rub it directly into my cuticles sometimes, as well as my forearms and elbows.

You can also mix olive oil with a little sea salt for a moisturizing scrub.

COCONUT OIL

Another favourite, coconut oil was historically a bit more popular on India, used for skin and hair care. These days coconut oil has become a fashionable cooking oil, and so chances are you already have it in your kitchen. If not, it's fairly inexpensive as well.

Coconut oil has all the same benefits of other oils, but also benefits from being slightly lighter-weight, and having mild antibiotic and sun protection qualities. (Note, in no way does coconut oil replace sunscreen all together, although you can make your own using coconut oil as a main ingredient). It is also a natural source of vitamin E. Another benefit is the simple convenience of its solid state at room temperature: if you want to carry a little pot of it around in your purse, it's less likely to make a mess (although it melts very easily, so on hot days this might not work so well).

Technique: once again, all you do is scoop a little and rub it in wherever you like.

Personally, I find coconut oil can leave my skin feeling a bit "coated" - I don't find it quite as effective. But many friends rave about it.

VITAMIN E OIL

This is great for those super dry spots. You can buy vitamin E capsules or a bottle of vitamin E oil from a health food store or drug store (I got mine at Trader Joe's). Vitamin E oil is very thick and intense, so it's not great for use on large areas of the body. I use it on my cuticles or if my elbows have become especially dry and scaly.

Vitamin E oil is, of course, pure vitamin E. It's a known antioxidant with some anti-aging properties (which is why it's used in almost all anti-aging skin products you buy over the shelf).

Technique: A tiny dab will do you! If you have capsules, break one open and squeeze the oil out on your finger or the palm of your hand. If you have a bottle, squeeze a little on the tips of your fingers and then rub it into your problem area.

2) Aloe Vera Gel

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Aloe vera is another fantastic naturally-occuring moisturizer. Because it is a gel, it is much lighter than using oils, so it can be a great "starter" if you're nervous about that or are worried about your oily skin.

Aloe vera contains vitamins C and E, as well as beta carotene that can help maintain firmness in the skin. It also contains Auxin and Gibberellins, which reduce inflammation and promote healing, making it great for not only sunburns but acne treatment.

You can get aloe vera gel in two ways: straight from the plant or from a bottle. Plants are cheap and supposed to be easy to maintain, but I kill everything, so as much as I'd love to get my aloe straight from the source, I need to buy mine in a bottle. If you're like me, just loo at the ingredients - many bottled aloe vera gels add additional ingredients like water or alcohol. You're looking for the pure stuff! Bottled aloe vera is also handier if you want to use your aloe on a larger area, as it can be a bit of work "harvesting" your aloe from a plant.

Technique: If you are using a plant, cut off a piece of a leaf and squeeze the gel directly out of it. The leaves are tough and so you have to squeeze a fair amount to get it out sometimes. Don't worry about killing the plant, it'll just seal off the broken leaf and keep growing. Then apply the gel wherever you need it! If you bought some, apply it as you would any moisturizer. Because of aloe's lighter nature, you'll need to use a bit more than you would oil, which spreads more easily over the skin.

3) Drink Water

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Seems obvious, but with our busy lives we often forget to go back to the basics: if your skin is perpetually dry, are you drinking enough water? Probably not. I almost always have a glass of water by my side, but in winter I'm refilling that glass way more often. Start off your day drinking a nice, tall glass of water, and then make sure you've got some available to you all the time. What with your skin being an organ in your body, it makes sense that a hydrated body will lead to hydrated skin.

4) Check your diet

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It's not just water that helps your body produce soft, hydrated skin. Your diet plays a big role. This is where those delicious fatty acids come into play. Omega-3s are your best friend here. Well known sources include fish and eggs, but you can also get omega-3s from flaxseed, walnuts, and fermented veggies, so vegans can get in there too! Supplements are also always an option.

As with any other healthy diet recommendation, it's also incredibly advisable to avoid sugar.

5) Avoid Soap

Of course, you still want to be hygienic, so follow all those wonderful hand washing procedures, but consider not sudsing your entire body up in the shower. Soap is very drying, and if you think about it, what exactly is so dirty about your forearms that you need to scrub them clean with chemicals? Most of the time, most of your body will get perfectly clean with hot water, and it will do a better job of retaining its own moisture. Not too hot, though - that can dry your skin out too! (I know, I know.)

6) Exfoliate

Use your scrub of choice to exfoliate the dead skin off. It is VERY important that you follow this up by immediately moisturizing your skin. Exfoliating will help the oil, aloe, or other moisturizer, penetrate your skin and hydrate all the way through (dead skin acts as a barrier), but if you don't do something to moisturize right after your skin will be exposed and feel even more dry.

You can make your own scrub easily by combining sugar or salt and some olive oil, or use a loofah.

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