Cleopatra was definitely onto something when she bathed her body in milk; the beverage is rich in exfoliating lactic acid that sloughs away dead, dry skin. Debbie Ludington, founder of the Sweet Grass Farm botanical body care line, suggests adding a quart of whole milk to your bath water. "Shea butter is also a fantastic hydrating ingredient," says Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., clinical instructor of Dermatology at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The fat from the fruit of the shea tree contains vitamins A and E and fatty acids to heal and protect dry, damaged skin. "Oils can be added to the bath water to help bind moisture onto the skin," says Tanzi. Try evening primrose oil, which is loaded with an omega-6 essential fatty acid called gamma-linoleic acid. In 2002, researchers at the College of Medicine at Inha University in Korea administered evening primrose oil to subjects suffering from a type of atopic dermatitis characterized by dry, scaly skin—and concluded that it was an effective treatment.
Extra steps: While skin is still damp, apply a body oil or lotion that contains glycerin or shea butter. "Moisturizing immediately after bathing helps lock in water; if you allow the skin to dry out after a bath, much of the moisture is lost to evaporation," explains Rebecca Tung, M.D., a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.