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Don't Let Winter Zap Your Skin

Dec 11, 2019
Person putting lotion on hands

Winter months can be filled with peak seasonal moments, from skiing the slopes to viewing the Christmas lights in your neighborhood. But winter can also bring a few party fouls along the way. Colder temperatures and low humidity levels can lead to a never-ending battle against dry winter skin—but that doesn't have to ruin your seasonal highlights. Instead, consider the following simple habits that can help winterize your daily skin routine.

Dry skin is a harmless condition, but the accompanying itchiness, redness, and unpleasing appearance of rough, dry skin can be aggravating.

The good thing is that prevention and treatment are simple and inexpensive. Our skin serves as the first line of defense against foreign invaders, so it's vital to keep this skin barrier in good condition to avoid infections.

Emily C. McKenzie, MD, a dermatologist at University of Utah Health, explains that skin gets drier in winter for a simple reason: as the temperature drops, the air holds in less moisture, drawing that moisture out of our skin. Even those with "normal" skin can experience dryness and itching, while people with skin conditions often see their problems exacerbated.

Keeping your skin healthy is ideal—the tighter the skin barrier is, the more moisture it retains, preventing dry skin. McKenzie recommends the following simple habits for keeping your skin moist and healthy:

  • Take shorter, lukewarm showers. Long showers and hot water remove natural oils from your skin.
  • Use mild, fragrance-free cleansers. These kinds of soaps tend to be less irritating on dry skin. It's also best to use daily cleansers only on parts of the body that need them, such as your face, armpits, hands, feet, and groin. Avoid excessive, daily cleansing on your arms, torso, and legs unless they are visibly dirty.
  • Apply moisturizers immediately after cleansing. It's ideal to pat dry with a towel to help retain moisture in the skin. Promptly moisturize while your skin is still damp. Apply moisturizing cream more than once a day to help retain and repair your dry skin.
  • Moisturizers packaged in jar containers tend to be more effective than lotion bottles with a pump dispenser. Lotion in bottles is liquefied with water or alcohol to pass through the dispenser.
  • Change the environment in your home. Low humidity and high furnace usage in your home dries out the air. Instead, use a humidifier. Some humidifiers attach to your furnace, which can return moisture to the air and prevent moisture withdrawal from your skin.
  • Use water softeners in your home. In Utah, our water tends to contain a lot of minerals (hard water). But when these minerals dry on our skin, they can cause it to dry out even further.
  • Dermatologist recommended lotions: CervaVe, Cetaphil, Aveeno, Vanicream, petroleum jelly
  • Dermatologist recommended lip balm: CortiBalm

Treatment for dry skin is specific to the individual and heavily dependent on that person's needs. "I have patients visit me for dry skin who aren't bothered by it but rather come in to get it examined," McKenzie says. "But we normally do not see severe major complications with dry skin. I treat every patient differently by tailoring treatment to their lifestyle, burden of disease, and how they're impacted by the symptoms."

Patients should see a dermatologist when experiencing symptoms that go beyond just dry skin— inflammation that is seen in eczema or a yellowish crusting on the skin, which usually indicates an infection is occurring.

"Anytime patients need help taking care of their skin is a good time to see a dermatologist," McKenzie says. "I get visits from patients having trouble finding relief, looking for product recommendations, or asking general questions to keep their skin looking and feeling healthy."