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A Dermatologist’s 7 Top Tips to Treat Dry Winter Skin

dry winter skin

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Author: Fayne Frey, M.D. Board Certified Dermatologist

originally posted 1/5/2019
updated 2/7/2021

Dry itchy skin during the colder months?

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 winter skin. 

It’s important to first understand why you 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, but unfortunately, it’s 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.

To keep your skin healthy, I recommend you make some simple changes to your skin care routine in the winter. Following the same skin care routine year round just doesn’t work as well when the humidity drops outside. Identify and tackle your problem areas to improve your skin health in the colder weather.

dry winter skin

7 Tips to keep your skin healthy in the Winter

Moisturize more frequently

I recommend 3-5 applications/day of moisturizer to help keep your skin hydrated, especially after a shower or bath.

-Moisturizers come as creams, lotions and ointments. Petrolatum based ointments tend to be more occlusive, which means they limit 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, 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.)

Take brief showers 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. I recommend no longer than ten minutes.

Use mild soap-free cleanser

Minimize the loss of your skin’s own moisturizing proteins and lipids by using mild soap-free cleanser.

Apply petroleum based lip balm

Petroleum based lip balm helps prevent chapped lips.

Moisturize your hands.

Do it often throughout the day to help your skin remain hydrated.

Wear hats, gloves and scarves when out in cold weather

Cover your extremities, not only to stay warm, but also to help prevent dry skin and chapped lips.

Use a humidifier

A humidifier increases moisture levels in your home, which helps prevent your skin from drying out.

The bottom line

Winter dry skin is a very common, albeit annoying, problem. It doesn’t discriminate by age or 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.

 

fayne freyFayne Frey, M.D., is a board-certified clinical and surgical dermatologist practicing in West Nyack, New York, where she specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. She is a nationally recognized expert in the effectiveness and formulation of over-the-counter skincare products, and, as a speaker, has captivated audiences with her wry observations regarding the skincare industry. She has consulted for numerous media outlets, including NBC, USA Today, and, the Huffington Post, and has shared her expertise on both cable and major TV outlets. Dr. Frey is the Founder of FryFace.com, an educational skincare information and product selection service website that clarifies and simplifies the overwhelming choice of effective, safe and affordable products encountered in the skincare aisles. Dr. Frey is a fellow of both the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

 

This article is not intended as medical advice. Please visit your doctor with your concerns and questions.

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