Dry, Itchy Skin in the Winter: Skin Care Tips - By Lindsay Weller and David Robles, MD, PhD

Winter is here and it's the season for dry skin, also known as “winter’s itch”.  Dry and itchy skin is a very common skin condition that can be particularly difficult to manage during these cold winter months.  

Our skin acts as a barrier against the environment to protect us from the harmful effects of the sun, temperature, and humidity.  The skin is made up of three layers: hypodermis, dermis, and epidermis.  The outer most layer, the epidermis, maintains hydration and helps to prevent water evaporation.  The middle layer, the dermis, consists of sweat and oil glands that produce natural moisturizers to keep the skin hydrated to give you that natural “glow”. 

As the temperature drops during the winter months, so does the humidity. Cold, dry air makes the water in skin evaporate quicker than normal.  As a result, skin can look and feel dry, red, flaky, and occasionally even painful and itchy.

Eczema Craquele is a common type of dermatitis that occurs as a result of very dry skin (xerosis cutis). It got its French name from its "cracked" appearance, reminiscent of parched, cracked mud.

Here are a couple of tips to keep your skin looking and feeling healthy during the winter months:

1. Reduce Indoor heating and Use Humidifiers:

Indoor heating strips moisture from the air and your skin.  
What can you do? Bundle up when you go outside to create a barrier between your skin and the cold, dry, windy weather - Wear gloves, scarves, a jacket, and hat.  Set the thermostat to the lowest comfortable temperature and use a humidifier.  Humidifiers can help combat the pesky, dry air in your own home.

2. Take Cooler Showers:

A hot shower feels great at the end of a long day.  However, the hot water can dry the natural oils in the skin – further dehydrating skin. What can you do? Turn down the dial! Decrease the temperature of your shower and keep it short.  When drying off, pat dry – don’t rub – your skin.

3. Use Moisturizers Every Day:

Cream, lotion, or ointment?

There are lots of choices out there and it can be confusing and difficult to figure out which to use.  Here is the difference between your topical moisturizers…

- Cream: Made up of half oil, half water.  Creams spread easily and absorb quickly.  They are reasonably hydrating without feeling too thick and heavy.

- Lotion: Lotions are thinner than creams.  These absorb quickly and feel very light on the skin.  Most of the over-the-counter moisturizers are lotions.

- Ointment: Ointments are thicker than creams, containing approximately 80% oil and 20% water.  These can feel thick and greasy when applied, but they are truly the best in terms of hydrating the skin.  

We suggest unscented creams such as, Aveeno, Eucerin, Cetaphil, and in severe cases, Vaseline ointment.  Scented lotions can smell great, but they contain alcohol, which can burn in cuts/cracks in your skin and may not be as effective as unscented moisturizers.  Also, some people are allergic to fragrance mix used in scented lotions. Make lotion application a part of your daily routine, just like brushing your teeth.

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