Winter is the ideal season for skiing and snowman building, but the cold and dry air can be brutal on skin. “The relative lack of humidity during the winter months coupled with indoor heating systems will significantly dry out skin,” says Stephanie Savory, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at UT Southwestern.
Get into a moisturizing routine. Use an oil-based moisturizer on your face and body every morning. Look for ingredients like jojoba, shea butter, and avocado oil. Apply it right after you step out of the shower and while your skin is still wet, to trap moisture into your skin. If you have sensitive skin, use a fragrance-free product. Don’t forget to moisturize your lips, which can get just as parched as the rest of you. Apply a layer of petrolatum-based lip balm every day.
Bathe less often. Frequent showers and baths – especially hot ones – leech moisture from your skin. Shower every other day during the winter, using a gentle, moisturizing soap. Keep the water lukewarm, and stay under the spray for fewer than 10 minutes. When you get out, don’t scrub with your towel – pat your skin dry.
Protect your scalp. Even if your scalp is covered with a layer of hair, it can still be prone to dryness, just like the rest of your skin. Use a leave-in daily conditioner for deeper moisturizing.
Hold moisture in your hands. Doctors recommend washing your hands throughout the day to avoid cold and flu germs, but frequent washing can dry out your skin. Do wash, but use a moisturizing soap or alcohol-free hand sanitizer to prevent dryness.
Moisten the air. Turn on a humidifier in your home to add moisture to the air. “Humidifying the air can reverse the process of skin dehydration and is particularly helpful for patients with dermatitis (an itchy inflammation of the skin),” said Michelle Tarbox, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Saint Louis University. Keep the humidifier clean by rinsing it out and patting it dry after each use. Bacteria and mold can grow in a dirty humidifier. And once you turn it on, those organisms can get into the air – and into your lungs.
Don’t forget your nose. Interior surfaces of your body can dry out just as much as exterior ones – especially the inside of your nose. Use an over-the-counter saline spray to keep your nasal passages moist.
Control itching. If dry skin makes you itch, apply a cool, wet washcloth to your skin. “To reduce inflammation, use a nonprescription hydrocortisone cream or ointment, containing at least 1 percent hydrocortisone,” says Megan Johnston Flanders, MD, a family medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Cannon Falls, MN. “If these measures don’t relieve your symptoms or if your symptoms worsen, see your health care provider.”
Avoid itchy clothes. A wool sweater will undoubtedly keep you warm, but it will also exacerbate dry skin itchiness. Natural, breathable fabrics such as cotton and silk will feel better against your skin, especially if you have winter irritation.
Practice good sun protection. The temperature outside might be chilly, but winter sun can still burn, and that means you still need to wear sunscreen. “Sunscreen belongs not just on your face, but also your hands and lips. And because snow reflects 80 percent of sunlight, use SPF 15 or higher all winter,” said Rebecca A. Kazin, MD, assistant professor of dermatology and director of the Johns Hopkins Cosmetic Center. Sunscreen not only protects against damage that can lead to skin cancer, but it also prevents wrinkles and other signs of premature aging. Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before you go outside, just as you would during the summer.
See a dermatologist. If your skin is flaking, scaling, or itching and moisturizing alone doesn’t help, make an appointment with your dermatologist. You could have a medical condition that needs treatment.
February 04, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN