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If you’ve lived through a Canadian winter, you know that dry skin is hard to escape at this time of year. That’s partly because the season’s environmental factors, such as low humidity and drastic fluctuations in temperature, can weaken the outer layer of the skin, also known as the moisture barrier. “It is portrayed as a well-mounted brick and mortar wall,” explains Quebec-based dermatologist Loukia Mitsos, who likens skin cells to bricks, and lipids (ceramides, cholesterol and free fatty acids) to mortar. “It is designed that way to prevent loss of water out of the skin and also to prevent entrance of harmful micro-organisms and irritants and allergens.”

When lipids are damaged or depleted, skin in that area loses water, dries out and becomes more permeable to those irritants and allergens. The result is skin that’s dry, flaky, red, rough, irritated, itchy, cracked or sensitive. In a word: uncomfortable. To prevent or repair the damage, Mitsos recommends avoiding harsh cleansers, perfumes, solvents and detergents, as well as extreme temperature changes, including hot water. Using a moisturizer that contains ingredients that block water from exiting the skin, such as dimethicone or mineral oil, will fix up that lipid barrier, Mitsos says. “Bathe with warm water and moisturize as soon as you come out of the shower to trap moisture in.”

Bioderma Atoderm Intensive Balm, $24.90 at drugstores and through bioderma.ca.

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