Winter is a great time for feeling toasty and warm, wrapped up in cozy sweaters or blankets, or settled in front of a fire. But freezing temperatures, low humidity, and furnace-blasted dry air can leave your skin dry, flaky, and itchy. Everyone needs to protect their skin from drying out in the winter. But if you have a skin condition, you should step up your routine to stay supple.
Winter Skin Tips for Everyone
Even if you don’t have a skin condition, you should take these steps to keep your skin from getting too dry in wintry weather.
- Add humidity to your home. Portable humidifiers or those that work with your heating system put moisture in the air that will be absorbed by your skin and hair.
- Use an oil-based moisturizer. Ointments or heavy creams seal water in the skin and preserve moisture better when the humidity is low.
- Slather on sunscreen. Before heading outdoors, apply a moisturizing, broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to any exposed areas. Sunscreen protects from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
- Clean up the right way. Frequent bathing or hot showers or baths can strip your skin of natural oils. Avoid deodorant bars, antibacterial soaps, perfumed soaps, and skin care products containing alcohol. Instead, use warm water and a mild, fragrance-free soap or moisturizing body wash. Limit your showers or baths to no more than 10 minutes, pat dry, and moisturize while your skin is still damp.
Low temperatures and low humidity levels raise your risk of eczema flares. “Think of severe dishpan hands with dryness, itching, blistering, and cracking,” says Robert Brodell, MD, chief of dermatology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Moisturize your hands and then slip on gloves before heading outdoors, but remove them quickly if you get overheated. Sweat trapped inside gloves can make you itch.
Psoriasis causes itchy, dry, and sometimes painful scales to appear on your skin. The plaques build up on your elbows, knees, scalp, and lower back. When you have psoriasis, your skin cells reproduce so quickly that old ones don’t have time to slough off. “Soaking in warm water with an over-the-counter, oilated oatmeal bath product can alleviate itching,” says Brodell. When you’re finished, gently pat dry your skin -- don’t rub! -- and apply a moisturizer.
Dandruff flakes appear when skin cells on the scalp rapidly reproduce and peel off. “The flakes are often accompanied by itching caused from scalp inflammation,” says Charles Crutchfield III, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Fairview. Flare-ups happen more often in the dry winter months, and not just on your scalp -- you also may see them on your nose, eyebrows, ears, armpits, and groin. Try switching between over-the-counter dandruff shampoos containing different ingredients. Severe cases may need a prescription shampoo and a corticosteroid or antifungal medication. Dandruff can be a lifelong condition. “If you find yourself wearing special clothing or avoiding situations because of dandruff, it’s time to see a dermatologist,” Crutchfield says.