For many people, Winter is synonymous with sipping hot chocolate by a fire, ski vacations, and holidays with families. Unfortunately, for too many people, winter also means dry, itchy, rough, and sensitive skin. If you struggle with dry skin during the winter months, Dr. Kathleen Ellison of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Fairfax, Virginia, encourages you to remember, “While winter weather increases the risk for rough, dry skin, you don’t have to accept that itchy and irritated skin is unavoidable. Your dermatologist can help you create a personalized care routine that delivers healthy, beautiful skin, even in cold weather.” In this blog, Dr. Ellison walks through some of the many ways you can improve your skin health and comfort throughout the harshest winter months.
Why Does Cold Impact the Skin?
In order to combat the effects of cold weather on the skin, patients first need to understand why winter weather leads to dry skin. Dry skin occurs when too much water or sebum (oil) is lost from the skin without being replenished. This occurs more often during the winter because cold air has much less moisture, weather systems tend to produce high levels of wind that strips moisture from the skin, and the use of heaters to warm living and working spaces pulls moisture out of the air. The goal of winter weather skincare should be to prevent further stripping moisture from the skin, treat scaly or cracked skin to avoid pain and potential infection, and restore healthy moisture levels. In addition to general dryness, chronic skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema may flare up during the dry winter months. It’s important to take preventive measures to keep the symptoms of these conditions to a minimum.
How Can I Keep Dry Skin Moisturized During Winter Months?
Some people struggle with dry skin naturally. They will likely have the most difficulty maintaining healthy moisture levels during the winter. But, there are always steps you can take to replenish or retain the optimal level of moisture and skin cell hydration you need to keep your skin looking and feeling good. Below, we’ve included some of our top recommendations for combatting dry winter skin.
Keep Your Thermostat at a Lower Setting
When you keep your thermostat set to a high temperature in the winter, it will run almost constantly. This strips the air of moisture. By turning down your thermostat, you reduce the amount of time your skin is exposed to the potentially moisture-stripping effects.
In addition to turning down the temperature, you can also install a humidifier. Many newer HVAC systems include built-in humidifiers and air purifiers. If your HVAC system doesn’t have a humidifier, having a furnace humidifier installed can help replenish the moisture your heater has stripped from the house. You can also use smaller humidifiers in the spaces you occupy most often, like your living room and bedroom.
Don’t Sit too Close to the Fire or Heating Vent
Another step you can take to reduce the amount of moisture stripped from your skin is to consciously consider where you sit. Don’t position yourself directly in front of a heating vent or open fire. Doing so will more quickly strip the moisture from your skin.
Adjust Your Showering & Bathing Routine
First and foremost, turn the water temperature down a bit. Like warm air, hot water strips moisture from the skin. You should also limit your time in the shower to just five or ten minutes. It may seem counterintuitive, but the longer you spend in the shower, the more moisture can be stripped from the skin. To combat the loss of moisture, keep the door closed to trap humidity in the room. Use a gentle cleanser, and apply just enough to remove dirt, oils, and dead skin cells. Too much soap can remove an excessive amount of moisture from the skin. When drying your skin after bathing, don’t rub. Instead, gently blot with your towel. You should apply a full body moisturizer immediately after your shower to maximize moisture retention.
Use the Right Moisturizers
There are so many moisturizing lotions and creams on the market that you may find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed at the sheer number of options. If you want help selecting the best one for your skin type and needs, it’s time to give your dermatologist a call. According to Dr. Ellison, “Everyone’s skin is a little different, so I’ll want to get to know your specific skincare needs before I make a recommendation. But, in general, I recommend using a thick, cream-based moisturizer two times each day. Look for ingredients that are specifically geared toward treating dry skin, including dimethicone, glycerin, lanolin, shea butter, and petroleum jelly.” If you struggle with severely dry skin, have a moisturizer with you at all times and apply it to problem areas as needed throughout the day.
In addition to keeping your whole body hydrated with daily moisturizing, there are some areas that need special attention, including the face, lips, hands, and feet. In the winter, you may want to use a thicker cream facial moisturizer in the morning and before bed. You should also use a lip balm throughout the day to prevent your lips from becoming chapped. Look for ingredients like aloe vera and vitamin E and avoid lip balms that have rubbing alcohol as the first ingredient. Hands can become chapped, especially after repeated washing, so carry a hand cream with you to use each time you wash. For severely dry or chapped hands and feet, you can apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly before you go to bed. Then, put on gloves and socks. This will help to heal and moisturize your hands and feet while you sleep.
Wear Protective Clothing
Cold weather, rain, wind, snow, and ice can strip moisture from the skin during the winter. To prevent dry skin, you should wear soft, protective clothing that will keep you warm and prevent further skin irritation and damage. In addition to warm clothing, you should also wear gloves, scarves, and hats. The eyes can also be adversely impacted by the wind or sunlight, so make sure you to wear goggles or sunglasses if you’re going to be outdoors for extended periods of time.
According to Dr. Ellison, “The health and appearance of your skin are typically good indicators of your whole body health and wellbeing. When your skin looks and feels dry and parched, the odds are good your whole body could use a little hydration boost. In addition to helping my patients find the right products to moisturize skin from the outside, I also encourage them to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated from the inside out.” Drinking water doesn’t immediately add moisture to your skin, it can take 48 hours or longer to see these results, but regularly drinking 64 fluid ounces of water a day (about 8 glasses) ensures your skin cells are healthy and hydrated.
Don’t Forget the Sunscreen
Even though it’s cold outside, your skin is still vulnerable to the harsh and potentially damaging impact of the UVA/UVB rays in sunlight. In addition to accelerated aging and the increased risk for skin cancer, sun exposure also strips moisture from the skin. For this reason, you should apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day to parts of the body that will be directly exposed to sunlight.
Switch to Milder Hygiene & Cleaning Products
To avoid irritating dry skin, you may want to consider switching to a gentler body wash and hand soap, fragrance-free lotions, milder deodorants, and hypoallergenic laundry detergents. To ensure your dry skin retains as much moisture as possible, you should avoid products with alcohol, fragrance, or harsh chemicals. While retinoids and alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) are beneficial for some skin types, they may not be beneficial during the dry winter months.
Don’t Forget to Schedule an Annual Exam at U.S. Dermatology Partners
In addition to improving your home skincare routine, you should also visit one of the skilled professionals at U.S. Dermatology Partners for regular exams. Our knowledgeable team members will be happy to partner with you to keep your skin healthy year-round. To schedule your visit, simply complete our appointment request form online or give one of our local offices a call.
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