Columbia University Medical Center

Prevent Winter from Weathering Your Skin

Ten Tips for Stopping That “Winter Itch”

Dry handsNEW YORK (October 2013) — All winter flakes are not made of snow. Cold weather, with its low relative humidity, wreaks havoc on our skin, making it dry and flaky. Skin dries out if it’s deprived of moisture and this dryness often aggravates itchiness, resulting in a condition commonly referred to as “winter itch.”

Not only is the air drier, but indoor heating further depletes the skin of moisture. Fortunately, there are several ways to replenish the water content of your skin.


Robyn Gmyrek, MD, a dermatologist and director of the Skin and Laser Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, suggests the following ten tips to help keep your skin smooth and comfortable:


1.  
  Moisturize daily. Petrolatum or cream-based moisturizers are better than lotions for normal to dry skin. If you have sensitive skin, choose a moisturizer without fragrance or lanolin. Apply moisturizer directly to your wet skin after bathing so the moisturizer can help trap surface moisture.

2.    
Cleanse your skin, but don’t overdo it. Too much cleansing removes the skin’s natural moisturizers. It is enough to wash your face, hands, feet, and between the folds of your skin once a day. While you can rinse your trunk, arms, and legs daily, it is not necessary to use soap or cleanser on these areas every day.

3.  
Limit the use of hot water and soap. If you have “winter itch,” take short lukewarm showers or baths with a non-irritating, non-detergent-based cleanser. Immediately afterward, apply a thick cream or petroleum-jelly-type moisturizer. Gently pat skin dry.

4.   
Humidify. Dry air can pull the moisture from your skin. Room humidifiers can be very beneficial. However, be sure to clean the unit and change the water according to the manufacturer’s instructions to reduce mold and fungi.

5.  
Protect yourself from the wind. Cover your face and use a petrolatum-based lip balm.

6.  
Avoid extreme cold. Cold temperatures can cause skin disorders or frostbite in some people. See a doctor immediately if you develop color changes in your hands or feet accompanied by pain or ulceration. If you develop extreme pain followed by loss of sensation in a finger or toe, you may have frostbite.

7.    
Protect your skin from the sun. Remember that winter sun can also be dangerous to the skin. Even in the winter, you should use a sunscreen with a sun-protection factor of 15 or greater if you plan to be outdoors for prolonged periods. Overexposure to sunlight can lead to premature aging of the skin and skin cancer.

8.    
Avoid winter tanning. Tanning beds and artificial sunlamps are always damaging to the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer. If you want to keep your summer glow, use self-tanners along with extra moisturizer, as self-tanners can also dry out the skin.

9.    
Take vitamin D supplements. During the summer, your natural vitamin D production increases as a result of daily sun exposure, but when winter rolls around that exposure decreases. Taking vitamin supplements can ensure that you get the recommended amounts of vitamin D all year round.

10.   
See your dermatologist. If you have persistent dry skin, scaling, itching, rashes, or skin growths that concern you, see your dermatologist—not only in winter but any time of the year.

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