Dry skin is common in winter. When the temperature and humidity drop, the dry air leaves the skin dehydrated. In addition, indoor heating strips the skin of even more moisture. But there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure optimal skin health during the chilly winter months. A home humidifier can keep the air moist, especially if it is set to 50% or higher. It helps the skin become less dry and itchy.
Hot showers are another culprit: While steamy showers can temporarily soothe skin, they can also dry out skin more quickly. The best way around this is to take a quick shower with lukewarm water instead of hot water. Also, limit showers and baths to less than 10 minutes. Drying vigorously after a shower can strip skin of its natural moisture by breaking down lipid barriers and increasing dryness. Instead, pat yourself dry after showering instead of rubbing.
Skin care – such as choosing the right soap – is very important when it comes to dryness and itchiness. Some soaps are harsh and strip the skin of all its natural moisture. Choose a mild, fragrance-free soap that moisturizes as well as cleanses. Apply enough cleanser to remove dirt and oil from the skin, but don’t apply enough to create a thick lather.
Moisturizing after washing is very important and retains moisture in the skin, keeping it healthy and hydrated. Avoid moisturizers that contain fragrances, as this can dry out the skin. Scented lotions containing ceramide, a molecule that retains water in the skin, help repair the skin barrier and retain water in the skin. Ceramide helps restore the skin’s natural barrier and locks in moisture and hydration. Many over-the-counter lotions aimed at treating eczema contain ceramide. Ointments and Crea
ms provide more hydration than lotions because they are more effective and less irritating than lotions.
Aging also causes dehydration: As hormone levels change over the years, skin becomes thin and dry. It helps to use free and clear detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets, as fragrances can irritate dry skin.
Normal dry skin is different from other skin conditions that cause itching, such as eczema and hives. The itching usually affects specific areas and the skin will experience other changes such as redness, bumps or blisters. Itchy skin can be a symptom of an underlying disease. These include liver disease, kidney failure, iron deficiency, anemia, thyroid problems, and certain cancers (such as leukemia and lymphoma). In these cases, itching will usually affect the entire body and the skin will appear normal. Treatment of the underlying disease will improve the itching. Reactions to medications can also cause itching and are usually accompanied by a rash. Skin should improve within a few weeks if you follow these simple skin care steps. If these changes don’t bring relief and distract you from your daily routines or affect your sleep, see your board-certified dermatologist. Very dry skin may require a prescription ointment or cream.