Soothe Dry Skin When You Have a Cold

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 22, 2013
3 min read

Sniffling and sneezing isn't the only thing that comes with a cold. It also makes your skin dry. Give it some TLC to so you can look your best while you get the rest of your symptoms under control.

Long, hot showers can help clear your stuffed-up head, but they dry your skin. So keep them short -- no more than 5-10 minutes. Use warm water, not hot. And only take a shower or bath once a day.

Skip the soap. "The purpose of soap is to cut grease. The greasy, oily layer on top of our skin keeps the water underneath it in and keeps our skin hydrated," says Karthik Krishnamurthy, DO, director of the Cosmetic Dermatology Clinic at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. "Soap strips away that oily layer. The important thing is to get water back in our skin and get a greasy layer back on."

Use a gentle non-soap cleanser on your face and body, instead. Don't use antibacterial or perfumed soap, deodorant bars, exfoliating cleansers, or any skin care products that have alcohol, like many hand sanitizers. Use things that are fragrance-free. They're less likely to irritate and dry your skin.

After your shower or bath, slather on moisturizer right away -- ideally while your skin is still soaking wet, Krishnamurthy says.

"Leave your moisturizer on the shower shelf with your soap and shampoo," she says. "Don’t even step out of the shower. Put it on while you're dripping wet, then pat yourself dry."

Thick, heavy creams last longer than light lotions. The thicker and greasier it is, the more it will trap and hold the water in your skin. Look for ingredients like ceramides that are like skin's natural fat. But simple petroleum jelly, mineral oil, shea butter, and glycerin work well, too.

For places that are very dry, like the bottom of your feet, try products that have urea or lactic acid. They help hold in moisture, but they can sting if you have cracked skin or eczema.

Moisturize throughout the day. Since you'll be washing your hands often to avoid spreading germs, keep lotion by the sink so you can nourish your skin every time you wash up.

If you feel itchy or uncomfortable throughout the day -- especially on your hands, arms, and legs -- then moisturize. Reapply before you go to bed.

When you have a cold, you should stay home while you're getting better. But if you have to go out, protect your skin.

The sun, wind, and cold all can be enemies when your skin is dry and sore. Though the sun's rays are less intense in cold weather, they can still burn -- leading to even more peeling, flaking, and itchiness. That's why it's important to wear sunscreen all year long. Look for one that's SPF 30 and says "broad-spectrum" on the label.

For extra protection from the sun, wear a scarf, hat, and gloves. They can also help save you from the drying effects of cold weather and wind.

Dry indoor air can irritate your skin and your sinuses, so keep it moist. Install a whole-house humidifier on your furnace or use separate ones in different rooms.

Keep humidity set between 30% and 50%. If you use a room humidifier, clean it often so mold or mildew don't build up.

Keep your skin hydrated from the inside out by getting enough healthy fats and vitamins. Fatty acids like omega-3s help make up your skin's natural, moisture-retaining oil barrier.

Too few of these healthy fats can give you dry, itchy skin. You can get omega-3s from seafood, especially salmon and tuna, as well as flaxseed, walnuts, and canola oil.

Foods rich in vitamins also help keep your skin moist and healthy. Eat plenty of poultry, fish, whole grains, and beans.