Tips for Dry Skin in the Winter
A dermatologist’s advice on a common ailment.
Dry skin is common during the winter. When the temperature and humidity levels drop, the dry air leaves the skin parched. In addition, indoor heating strips the skin of even more moisture. But there are a few simple steps one can take to ensure optimal skin health during the chilly winter months. A humidifier at home can keep the air moist, especially if set at 50% or higher. It will help the skin from becoming less dry and itchy.
Hot showers are another culprit: Although steamy showers can temporarily soothe the skin, they can also dry out the skin more quickly. The best way around this is to take a quick shower with lukewarm rather than hot water. Also, limit showers and baths to less than 10 minutes. Vigorous toweling off after a shower can strip the skin of its natural moisture by breaking down lipid barriers and increase dryness. Instead, post-shower, pat yourself dry rather than rubbing.
Skin care – like picking the right soap – is very important when it comes to dryness and itching. Some soaps are harsh and strip the skin of all its natural moisture. Choose a mild, fragrance-free soap that moisturizes as it cleanses. Apply enough cleanser to remove dirt and oil from the skin, but don’t apply so much that it creates a thick lather.
Moisturizing after washing is very important and traps moisture in the skin, keeping it healthy and hydrated. Avoid moisturizers that contain fragrances, as this can dry out the skin. Fragrance-ree lotions that contain ceramide, a molecule that traps water in the skin, help restore the skin barrier and keep water in the skin. Ceramide helps restore the skin’s natural barrier and retains moisture and hydration. Many over-the-counter lotions that are geared toward treating eczema contain ceramide. Ointments and crea
ms provide more hydration than lotions, as they’re more effective and less irritating than lotions.
Aging also causes dryness: As hormone levels change over the years, the skin becomes thin and dry. It helps to use free and clear laundry detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets, as fragrances can be irritating to dry skin.
Normal dry skin is different from other skin conditions that cause itching, such as eczema and hives. The itching usually affects specific areas, and the skin will experience other changes like redness, bumps or blisters. Itchy skin can be a symptom of an underlying illness. These include liver disease, kidney failure, iron deficiency, anemia, thyroid problems and certain cancers (such as leukemia and lymphoma). In these cases, itching will typically affect the whole body, and the skin will appear normal. Treatment of the underlying illness will improve the itching. Reactions to medications can also cause itching and will typically present with an associated rash. The skin should improve within weeks if you follow these simple skin-care steps. If these changes don’t bring relief and are distracting you from your daily routines or affecting your sleep, see your board-certified dermatologist. Very dry skin may require a prescription ointment or cream.