Q: I am now 75 years old and wonder what I can do about the dryness and itching of my skin that seems to get worse every year.
A: As people grow older, they tend to lose some of the skin surface lipids (or fats) that help to maintain the normal moisture of the skin.
Skin dryness is often especially troublesome during winter months when the dry heated air found inside most houses increases water loss from the skin. Humidifying the house, or at least the most commonly used rooms, may alleviate the skin dryness. Also, avoid contact of dry skin with wool clothing.
Dry skin is further aggravated by excessive soapy bathing and may be somewhat improved by lubricating creams. You should take tub baths no more than twice a week, using only moderately hot water and limiting your exposure to soaps which remove skin surface oils.
Try showering instead. Begin by soaping your groin and under your arms with Ivory, Dove or some other mild soap, then rinsing quickly.
When taking a tub bath, add 1/2 to 1 ounce of bath oil, such as Domol or Alpha-Keri, to several inches of lukewarm water in the tub. A number of lubricating preparations (Lubriderm, Eucerin, Aquaphor, Shepard's, Keri, Nivea) can be applied to dry areas of skin immediately after each bath and then daily if needed.
Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.