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Dermatologist’s Top Tips to Treat Dry, Itchy Winter Skin

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fayne freyAuthor: Fayne Frey, M.D. Board Certified Dermatologist

Is your skin drier in the winter than during other seasons? You’re not alone. Cold air, strong winds, and other seasonal factors often lead to dry skin in winter. Here are some good tips to help protect your skin.

First, understand why you may have dry skin during the winter, then you can take steps to prevent it. Simply put, healthy skin requires adequate hydration. And fortunately, skin hydrates itself! Lipids, or fat, which encompass each superficial skin cell, work to prevent water from evaporating from the skin’s surface. At the same time, each superficial skin cell contains compounds that act as sponges and draw additional water to the skin surface. It’s a good system.

Unfortunately, the system is not perfect.  Here’s what happens in the winter. When the air is cold and dry, your skin tends to lose more water into the environment than it does on hot and humid days. The enzymes responsible for allowing the top layer of skin to shed are less effective without adequate hydration. Superficial skin cells, which otherwise would shed, instead “hang on”, which makes your skin look flaky and dry.

Make Simple Changes in Your Skin Care Routine for Winter

Following the same skin care routine year round may not work well when the humidity drops outside. Identify and tackle your problem areas to improve your skin health in the colder weather.

  1. Moisturize more frequently (3-5 applications/day) to help keep the skin hydrated, especially after a shower or bath.
    -Moisturizers come as creams, lotions and ointments. Petrolatum based ointments tend to be more occlusive, limiting the evaporation of water from the skin. During the cold winter months, these oil-based moisturizers may be more effective.
    -For very dry skin and problem areas such as elbows and knees, you can try moisturizers containing urea and/or lactic acid to draw moisture back to your skin (Note: These types of moisturizers may cause stinging or burning when applied to irritated, cracked, or inflamed areas.)
  2. Take brief showers, no more than 10 minutes, with lukewarm water. I love long hot showers on a brisk winter day as much as the next person, but they strip the skin its normal protective skin oils, making dryness worse.
  3. Use mild soap-free cleanser to minimize the loss of the skin’s own moisturizing proteins and lipids.
  4. Apply petroleum based lip balm to prevent chapped lips.
  5. Moisturize your hands regularly.
  6. Wear hats, gloves and scarves when out in cold weather, not only keep warm, but also to help prevent dry skin and chapped lips.
  7. Get a humidifier to increase moisture levels in your home, which helps prevent skin from drying out.

dry, itchy skin in the winterWinter dry skin is a very common, albeit annoying, problem. It doesn’t discriminate by age and in people with or without other skin problems. Simple changes at the beginning of the season can help prevent problems later. If your skin dryness seems severe or persists, visit a dermatologist to rule out any underlying medical causes such as eczema, psoriasis or other inflammatory disorder.



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