Young woman running outdoors in a city park
Updated: December 18, 2012 1:39PM
Winter officially arrives Friday, bringing with it a host of potential problems. Among them: dry, irritated winter skin.
“Most of the time during the winter months the humidity is really low, and it tends to make people have problems with dry skin; they can have problems with itching and cracking,” says Dr. Matt Meier, a dermatologist.
More frequent hand washing in an effort to avoid winter colds and flu also can be a culprit, says another determatologist, Dr. Molly Eisner.
Dry skin can be an issue for both men and women, and for every age group, from children to seniors.
“As we age, our skin becomes more dry with time and doesn’t really hold the moisture in as well, so [older individuals] can have a lot of problems with dryness during the winter months,” Meier says. “It’s tough on children as well because a lot of times kids are in sports, so they may be showering more frequently. That removes the natural oils in the skin and makes them more prone to dryness.”
Fortunately, there are plenty of steps you can take to protect your skin.
“Don’t wait until the symptom is full-fledged,” Eisner recommends. “Anticipate the problem.”
Use these tips to combat dry skin before it starts — or to help get it in check once it has.
Bathe less frequently. “Every day’s not really necessary,” Meier says. “When it’s July, it’s probably necessary [because] everybody’s hot and sweaty, but in the winter it’s not really necessary.”
Take shorter, cooler showers. “You would think that if you stay in for a long, hot shower, that would make things better, but it actually makes them worse,” Meier says. “I tell people to limit their shower [to no more than 10 minutes].”
“Decrease the temperature so that when you step out, your skin’s not going to evaporate that moisture out,” Eisner says.
Use soap only where you need it. “Dermatologists always say to cleanse only the areas that need it most, areas that would hold sweat [like under the arms], with a cleanser,” Eisner says.
“Plain old water is good enough for most of your body,” Meier says.
Eschew harsh soaps in favor of gentler cleansers. “Look for [words like] ‘gentle,’ ‘non-irritating,’ ‘non-drying,’” Eisner says. “[It] might say that there is some component of moisturizer in the cleanser.”
Use a hand cream or moisturizer after washing your hands. “I tell people to keep something next to the sink that they use most often so that they have something handy,” Meier says.
Pat skin dry, then immediately use moisturizer to seal in moisture from the shower, Meier says.
Use thicker creams. “In general, thicker creams tend to do better than lotions,” Meier says. “For those who can tolerate it, the oily moisturizers, like Vaseline or Aquaphor, are the best in terms of providing the ultimate moisturizing for the skin.”
For those who don’t like the oily texture of those products, Meier recommends creams, which he said have more oil and are better able to protect the skin. Those products tend to come in jars (rather than bottles or tubes), he says.
Look for key ingredients. Eisner and Meier both recommend moisturizers with ceramides or glycerin; Eisner also listed dimethicone and petrolatum as potentially helpful ingredients.
Around the house ...
Limit contact with irritants, such as cleaning products. Wear gloves for household cleaning and for washing dishes, Meier says.
If the air in your home is dry, put a humidifier on the home furnace, Eisner says.
... and outdoors
Wear gloves to keep skin covered. “The cold weather can lead to more chapping of the hands,” Meier says.
Use sunscreen. “You can still get sunburned in the winter months, so it’s a good idea to put sunscreen on if you’re going to be outside for any length of time,” Meier said.
Don’t make it worse
If you already have dry skin symptoms, then “avoid scratching and itching or manipulating the skin,” Eisner says.
Don’t lick chapped lips. “The dryer their lips become, the more [people] tend to lick them, which just makes the problem worse,” Meier says. Carry lip balm, he suggests.
Listen to your skin. “If something burns, that’s a signal that your skin is being irritated by it, so avoid it,” Eisner says.
Gannet News Service