Living Well: Caring for dry winter skin
- Use a humidifier to help to keep your skin hydrated.
- Lower or maintain the thermostat at a cool, yet comfortable setting, 68 to 72; cranking up the heat only dries out the air.
- The wrong soap can worsen dry and itchy skin. Look for products with simple ingredients, and always make sure they are “fragrance-free.” The same is true for lip balms and chapsticks.
- If your skin is itchy and dry, avoid putting a wool sweater next to your skin. Wear a layer of soft, breathable material, and put your ski sweater on top of that.
- Dry skin
- Itching, which may be severe, especially at night
- Red to brownish-gray patches, especially on the hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, inside the bend of the elbows and knees, and in infants, the face and scalp
- Small, raised bumps, which may leak fluid and crust over when scratched
- Thickened, cracked, scaly skin
- Raw, sensitive, swollen skin from scratching
October through March, Dr. Laurie Good recites the following two rules to practically every patient who walks through her practice’s door. As a dermatologist, now part of the MRH medical team, she sees every day what our cold, low-humidity climate does to winter skin. Following are her recommendations for keeping the flakes and itchiness at bay.
• Take a colder shower or bath — “When it’s cold outside, we love our hot showers,” Good said. “But in the winter, when we step out of a hot shower into the colder air of the bathroom, we lose all our moisture.”
This is especially true if we’re older. As we age, we become less adept at retaining moisture in our skin, she said. And some medications, such as statins, are further dehydrating to skin. So, Good advises, if your flaky skin is bothering you, try turning down your water temperature. “It’s not a popular suggestion, but it works,” she said.
• Moisturize every day — Whether or not you follow rule number one, Good’s second rule for soothing the winter-skin blues is to gently blot your skin dry when you get out of the shower or tub — don’t rub or wipe it —then immediately slather on a thick coat of a good moisturizer.
What’s a good moisturizer?
“If it comes in a pump, it’s not useful in our climate. Look for a thick, fragrance-free moisturizing cream that comes in a jar. Children and people with eczema may need to use an ointment, which is even thicker than a cream,” Good said.
Of course, our hands in winter deserve special attention. They get extra-dry, because we plunge them into water to wash them many times a day.
“Those little splits and fissures on our fingertips are painful,” Good said. “For hands, I recommend an emollient ointment, and I suggest applying a thick coat after every handwashing.”
Good is a board-certified dermatologist who joined the MRH medical team in December. She practices full-spectrum dermatology for people of all ages, from children through seniors and sees patients in both Craig and Steamboat MRH locations.