It is time for a skin check. Look at your hands. Are they dry? Are the knuckles red and irritated? Are the fingertips cracked and sore? Are your feet, face, elbows and knees also suffering?
Indoor heat with its low humidity and cold wind outdoors team up to deplete the skin of moisture. Washing hands frequently to avoid cold and flu germs aggravates the problem.
There are plenty of pricey skin-care products that are supposed to revive, refresh and rejuvenate dry skin. Ads for some anti-aging formulations promise to turn back the clock and reverse wrinkles, give skin the texture of silk and improve tone and elasticity.
What most of these skin creams and lotions do reliably is moisturize skin. But a number of less expensive alternatives work just as well.
A veterinarian recently wrote to sing the praises of Udder Cream. She said: "I wash my hands close to 50 times per day. You can imagine what that does to my skin. By the end of the week my knuckles would be red and raw if it weren't for Udder Cream."
Our readers are enthusiastic about barnyard beauty aids for dry skin. We first heard about Bag Balm from a dairy farmer. This product to prevent chapping on cows' udders has been around since 1899. It contains petroleum jelly, lanolin and a disinfectant. Farmers found that massaging this salve on udders made their own chapped hands feel much better.
Harpists, quilters, auto mechanics and housewives have also applauded the power of these low-tech, old-fashioned moisturizers.
If you have trouble locating Bag Balm, it can be ordered directly from the Dairy Association, P.O. Box 145, Lyndonville, VT 05851. A 10-ounce can costs $9.
Udder Cream contains a wound-healing agent, allantoin, as well as dimethicone, lanolin and propylene glycol. It looks and smells more like a nice hand cream. If you can't find Udder Cream in a store, you can call (800) 345-7339.
Moisturizers work best when applied at bedtime. Wearing gloves helps protect bedclothes. Inexpensive white cotton gloves can be purchased through photographic supply stores. They can also be ordered from the Vermont Country Store Mail Order Office, P.O. Box 3000, Manchester Center, VT 05255-3000. The phone number is (802) 362-2400, or you can visit the Web site (vermontcountrystore.com).
Keeping skin in shape during the winter can be a challenge. But you don't have to spend a bundle to keep it soft and supple.
Write to Joe and Teresa Graedon at Graedon's People's Pharmacy, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. E-mail may be sent via their Web site (www.peoplespharmacy.com).