Help me and my family adapt to a high desert life
March 22, 2013 8:30 PM   Subscribe

I moved with my family to New Mexico, near Albuquerque, this past July. We've done OK, but I feel like we could be doing better. We use lots of skin lotion, and I usually wake up with a stuffy nose and dry mouth. I'd love to hear tips and tricks, or recommendations for blogs or books. Topics of interest inside.

I'd like to know more about skincare (what can I do so I don't dry out after taking a shower?), electronics care (I can shut down my desktop computer by plugging in a USB device in just the wrong way), plants (my grapefruit tree died, and I'd like to keep the rest of my house plants and future yard plants alive), and pets (our house cats seem to be doing well enough). Thanks!
posted by filthy light thief to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't been in NM more than a few days, but for not drying out after a shower, try baby oil while skin is still damp and you're in the humid post shower environment.
posted by sweetkid at 8:34 PM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

This is probably obvious, but do you have a humidifier (or several) in your house? They help with skincare, plants, and pet/human breathing/moisture issues.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:38 PM on March 22, 2013

nthing humidifier(s). I've needed a couple just to get through the winter. I also keep a small crock pot plugged in in the kitchen with herbs to help with sinuses.

This lady has a good blog about desert gardens.
posted by patheral at 8:51 PM on March 22, 2013

Humidifiers are amazing; check Ask for previous questions about them (I bought a huge ultrasonic one after reading some of those). Neti pots/sinus rinses are a good idea for keeping things moist, too.
posted by asperity at 9:06 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Use sesame oil on your skin, before you dry off from the shower. I'm also on board with the humidifier: get one big enough to humidify your whole house. As for the plants, I'm so sorry about your grapefruit! The good news is that you can plant rosemary like crazy! Apache plume! Desert Willow smells heavenly!
For kitties, the great news is is that you are not going to have to deal with fleas unless it gets crazy rainy. You will still have to deal with ticks, though. And in the summer, they might get really hot. If they start to pant, spray a really fine mist into their ears, which will cool them off. Bizarre as it sounds, a hot cat really loves this.
posted by pickypicky at 9:16 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is kindof funny for me to read as I grew up in Albuquerque and only developed dry skin as an adult after moving to the east coast.

Within 5 minutes of getting out of the shower, apply an all over coat of a non-scented cream like Cetaphil. (not the lotion, the cream in the tub) It'll go on thick but get absorbed into your skin. It slows the evaporation of water from your skin, and its important to go on just after showering.

Growing up, having family and friends stay with us, this saline nose gel was a fixture in medicine cabinets if you get nosebleeds. Its not glamorous, but it feels awesome if you need it.

Drinking lots of water was also instilled into us as kids. Another adjustment moving to the east coast was learning that to most people a 8oz drinking glass is a "normal" glass of water. You might have already realized that isn't going to cut it. Just plain drinking more water will help a lot. Lungs need a moist membrane for gas exchange, and most of your water is lost to breathing. Breathing in a lower relative humidity means more moisture lost, thus more moisture needs to go in! Eating spicy foods is a natural adaptation as you'll want to drink more water. So ask your neighbors for their green chile stew recipes!

(Speaking of learning new "normal" things, I didn't know people dried dishes after they washed them, or that mold was something that could grow outside of a tupperware container. Really, I could go on. Theres a whole list of these "so you grew up in Albuquerque" lines somewhere, but my google-fu is failing right now. And I have to say, its been a long time since I've shorted a stick of RAM. I just assumed that manufacturing had gotten better but now you have me wondering...)

Oh, and one thing you didn't mention yet. "High altitude baking" Be prepared to tweak some recipes as water has a slightly higher boiling point.

As for cats. If you notice them being particularly static-y, put some unscented hand lotion on your hands, then give them a few pets.

Choose your houseplants wisely, and go for indigenous plants for your yard. My (east-coast raised) husband thinks its hilarious, but xeieroscaping (aka having rocks instead of grass) is something you might want to look into.
posted by fontophilic at 9:17 PM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Get to love High Country Gardens and Plants of the Southwest.
posted by pickypicky at 9:18 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Be prepared to tweak some recipes as water has a slightly higher boiling point.

Higher altitude means a lower boiling point.

In fact, since the optimal temperature to brew tea is just below the boiling point of water at sea level, some people argue that it is impossible to brew a good cup of tea at high altitude (without something like a pressure cooker). The water just won't get hot enough!
posted by sbutler at 9:55 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Toss the bar of soap in your shower (if any), and use Aveeno body wash. Get the "skin relief" variety, not the simple "moisturizing" or the "nourishing" types. It's not the complete solution, but for most people with extra-dry skin, it'll get you two-thirds there. You might find you don't need to apply lotion during the moderately dry days. YMMV, of course.

I had tried many body washes that claim to help itchy, dry skin. But the Aveeno skin relief line of products was the only thing that clearly helped. It changed my life, a little bit.
posted by ccl6yl at 10:23 PM on March 22, 2013

The humidifier advice is good.

One important thing that hasn't been mentioned: wear sunscreen on exposed skin, every single day forever.
posted by medusa at 11:14 PM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

In such places I will sleep with a wet t-shirt over my face. I guess it is usually more damp than sopping, but by the morning they are usually bone dry. I have a pretty high tolerance for things covering my face, though.

This approach usually keeps my sinuses moist and my skin soft.
posted by MonsieurBon at 4:58 AM on March 23, 2013

If you want to be environmentally friendly: You might consider washing laundry at dinner time, and drying it by hanging it up in your bedrooms or elsewhere in your house. This will mitigate the need for a humidifier. It calls for a little ingenuity, but it's going to be very helpful. Using an electric or gas dryer is a little silly out in the desert :)

(note: I do this even in North Carolina on very hot or very cold/dry days, and it's great -- some clothes need a fluffing because they come out wrinkled, though. Jeans wrinkles come out naturally with wearing the jeans.)
posted by amtho at 5:38 AM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I aleays find that I need to drink roughly triple the amount of water I thought I needed when I go back home. You sweat all day and don't even notice, because it immediately evaporated.

As opposed to puerto rico, where I am convinced I need to be hospitalized for heat stroke within five minutes of getting off the plane.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 6:02 AM on March 23, 2013

Wear a hat every minute you are outdoors.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:18 AM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I prefer cool-mist humidifiers with washable filters. The one I have is by Hunter and I have used it for years. I bought mine at Target or Costco. Just clean it out once in a while. It's easier if you clean it regularly rather than waiting until it's gunky. It makes your home feel so comfortable. It's the same feeling when you walk into the indoor plant greenhouse at a nursery. Very nice.

As for bath products, try bar soap made with goat milk. I use it in the winter and I don't get that "must apply lotion" feeling after showering. I also use it in the summer because it smells good! You can find goat milk soap all over the place: health food store, Amazon, etc. The one I use is from a farm called Creamery Creek.
posted by Soda-Da at 10:32 AM on March 23, 2013

I came here to suggest oil in place of moisurizer. Moisturizer works by wicking moisture from high water area to low water area. So it helps your skin in humid climates but actually dehydrates you in dry ones because your skin is moister than the air.

In addition to more fluids, you likely need more electrolytes. Consider drinking things like gatorade or otherwise increasing your intake of electrolytes.
posted by Michele in California at 10:41 AM on March 23, 2013

I live in the desert, too, and I use virgin unrefined coconut oil after I shower. It smells divine and moisturizes like a dream. (It's also cheap!)
posted by anonnymoose at 11:38 AM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, yes--sunscreen is your new best friend. Wear it every day and reapply every two hours or after sweating. This is an easy way to protect yourself--both from skin cancer, and from looking like a handbag.
posted by anonnymoose at 11:41 AM on March 23, 2013

Yes, drink more water than you think is necessary. Sunscreen, sunscreen, hats, eat leafy greens, more water. The upside is, once you're acclimated to the altitude, you're superhuman at sea level!
posted by mon-ma-tron at 6:55 PM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Drink way more water than you think you need. I lived in a tourist town on the edge of a desert in Australia and the number of tourists that would get sick from not drinking was so high they put signs in a bunch of languages in all the public areas reminding people to drink. Even when it wasn't hot just warm the air is dry and you are sweating continuously but it doesn't feel like it.

I like to rub oil on my skin after a shower while it's still moist, to keep it moist, really anyone that takes your fancy will do the job, lotions as such are in my opinion too light.

Humidifiers are amazingly helpful, or those little indoor fountain things everywhere, though the noise of those makes me want to pee.

Make sure to have plenty of fresh water available for your pets at all times, as well as shade. If you don't have air conditioning in really hot weather let your cats/dogs into the bathroom or a tiled area, they can cool down by putting their bellies on the cool tiles.

Sunscreen is your best friend, and watch your pets too. Light colored cats and dogs (those with pink skin under their fur) are prone to skin cancers, cover ear tips, noses and anywhere fur is thing or parts with sunblock if they are outside for any length of time. We had a white cat have to have his nose and ear edges cauterized off because of skin cancer. You can also colour in the nose and ear tips with a black texta/sharpy for a more permanent solution, check with your vet as I don't know what US brands are safe to do this with.
posted by wwax at 10:38 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

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