By Steve Jansen

High-Altitude Skin Care

Here’s How to Keep Your Skin Moisturized and Healthy.

Emily Altman, MD, associate program director at The University of New Mexico School of Medicine's Department of Dermatology, is a newcomer to the Land of Enchantment. Like many locals, she marvels at New Mexico's perpetually sunny, picturesque scenery. "The amount of sky and sun is absolutely incredible and beautiful," Altman says.

But with that beauty comes a relentless, drying agent known as the sun.

"There's basically no protection," Altman says. "The amount of sun and ultraviolet light that you're getting is very high, especially at our higher altitude."

With temperatures inching towards the inevitable triple digits - and coupled with Albuquerque's bountiful sunshine - we're approaching the season of dry skin and sun damage. Altman says there are three important steps you can take to keep your skin feeling good in Albuquerque's dry-as-a-bone summer.

1. Cleanse, Don't Scrub
Lipids or fatty acids increase the skin's hydration because these agents block the evaporation of water from the skin. "If you take a lot of showers you get drier," Altman says.

When bathing, use a mild cleanser and warm (not hot) water. Avoid washcloths and loofahs, Altman suggests. "If you exfoliate or scrub, you remove the dead skin cells, making the skin lose more water and be more sensitive to the sun and irritants. The top layer of the skin is one of the ways the skin protects itself."

2. Before Drying, Moisturize
Apply a thin layer of moisturizer while the skin is still damp "so it locks in the moisturizer," Altman says. Apply a thinner moisturizer (lotion) in the summer and a thicker version (cream or ointment) in the winter. "If you put on a heavy moisturizer when it's hot, your skin is going to feel sticky, sweaty and uncomfortable," Altman says.

3. Invest in a Home Humidifier
Not only can humidifiers combat congestion from the common cold, influenza and sinus infections, but they can also relieve eczema, itchy skin, dry eyes and cracked lips, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Other Useful Tips
In terms of skin care for folks who spend time outside, Altman emphasizes using sunscreen that contains ingredients that block both UVB rays (common to all sunscreens) and UVA rays (one such ingredient is called avobenzone). Other sunscreens that block both UVB and UVA rays are the physical blockers that contain micronized zinc, titanium or both.

"If you're outside, reapply sunscreen every two hours," Altman says. "If you're doing any type of water activity like swimming, reapply after you swim."

Wear a hat, because there currently isn't a good way of applying sunscreen to your scalp. If you've forgotten sunscreen at home and you opt to wrap a cloth around the back of your neck, first hold it up to the sun to see if light gets through. "A white t-shirt only supplies about an SPF 7," says Altman, who adds that it's crucial to avoid sun exposure at peak hours, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

"Be gentle to your skin," Altman says. "That's the most important thing."

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