In dryland Alberta, the winter battle to alleviate dry, itchy, flaky skin can seem as boundless as a prairie sky. The place is parched. Lancôme of Paris has no idea what we're up against out here. It's hot and dry in summer, cold and dry in winter. Indoors or out, you're shrivelling like a late-harvest grape on the vine.
The upside is that Westerners have come up with some great homegrown products to help keep us smooth and supple despite the rigours of our northern winter.
When it comes to hard-core hydration, the Rocky Mountain Soap Company's body butters are a bold innovation. These cocoa butter- and beeswax-based products come in a solid applicator - like a giant Chapstick for your skin - and feature special formulations for body, hands and feet. The body butter ($12.49) contains sweet almond and grapefruit oils in a shea- and cocoa-butter base, while the very popular foot butter ($12.49) combines beeswax, fir-needle oil and carrot oil to penetrate dry, cracked winter heels.
Jennifer Buckler, Rocky Mountain Soap Company's product education and development expert, says the products contain natural ingredients and essential oils. Beeswax, she says, is a natural humectant (a substance that helps seal in the moisture provided by such ingredients as cocoa butter). But even before you moisturize, she says, it's important to slough off excess dry skin with a product like their Pumpkin Patch Soap, a mildly exfoliating formula of pumpkin pulp and seeds, that grateful customers say heals eczema, even in babies.
"Any type of moisture cream works best when your pores are open and ready to accept the moisture," she says. In fact, Buckler recommends moisturizing immediately after exfoliating in the shower or bath ( http://www.rockymountainsoap.com).
The granddaddy of the Western skin-soothing lineup has to be George's Cream ($13.99), a decidedly unsexy slather perfected by George Doherty, a Calgary pharmacist, in his kitchen. Doherty and partner Skip Gibson devised the special dry-skin cream at the behest of a local dermatologist.
This heavyweight cream, made from petroleum jelly (which comes from good old Alberta crude), is recommended for all kinds of dry, itchy skin conditions. It seals in moisture when applied liberally to damp skin. It's a gooey, unscented hypo-allergenic cream that really works on weather-roughened skin ( http://www.georgescream.com).
Your inner hippie may prefer moisturizing elixirs from the B.C. coast. One of our favourites is an aromatic skin saver called Gardener's Dream Cream ($18.50), a bestseller from Saltspring Island's Aroma Crystal Therapy. An invigorating blend of peppermint, rosemary, lavender, eucalyptus, cinnamon and tea tree essential oils give this rich cream a distinctive aroma.
The "vibrationally enhanced" recipe actually makes your skin tingle. Apparently, herbal healer Jane Janzen infuses the cream with her own healing energy, which "creates harmony" in your "bio-electric fields." Whatever. It smells nice and smoothes out dry skin fast.
Enthusiasts also claim the formula is antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and will stimulate circulation, relieve congestion, relieve pain and improve memory and confidence - pretty impressive for a hand cream ( http://www.aromacrystal.com).
But my all-time favourite dry-skin soother is the clean, green and unscented Laminaria Body Lotion ($44) from the Seaflora line of Outer Coast Seaweeds on Vancouver Island. Creator Diane Bernard - Sooke's "seaweed lady" - harvests 10 types of wild seaweed by hand from the island's storm-battered West coast for her organic products. Her purifying seaweed cleansers, facial masks and gels promise to infuse your face with natural vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, folic acid and niacin, along with a plethora of trace minerals from the sea ( http://www.sea-flora.com).
Bernard packages her six handcrafted products in a stylish wooden cylinder. This time of year, the soothing Laminaria Body Lotion will get rid of dry, patchy, flaky skin wherever you apply it. "Seaweed is a natural emollient," Bernard says, "and it's loaded with antioxidants, mineralizing and moisturizing properties. It's naturally anti-inflammatory, calming and detoxifying. "Seaweed has a simple cell structure, and our skin is actually able to absorb it. That's what makes it so special."