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Caring for dry skin during cold winter weather

Jenny Decker RN's picture

Cold winter weather seems to be the norm across America this year. Itchy, dry skin makes the cold that much more uncomfortable. The good news is there are things that can be done to care for dry skin during cold winter weather.

Winter tends to make the flaky, itchy, dry skin appear if it was not already present during the rest of the year. Winter’s air is dry and this is a common cause of dry skin. Add to the outside cold dry air, heating the house removes moisture from the air, aggravating the already itchy, flaky skin, making it more parched. Having a strategy is essential when your skin screams for relief during the cold winter months.

When it is cold outside, sometimes the first thing one thinks of is a nice long warm (or hot) shower. Sounds so nice and comforting, right? Hot showers can strip a person’s skin of its natural oils. This natural oil barrier is what protects the skin, trapping moisture so that skin can stay smooth and moist. WebMD writes that instead of taking a long hot shower, keep it to 5 to 10 minutes. When drying off, gently pat your skin and immediately moisturize afterwards. This helps trap in needed moisture.

Hot water is not the only element of a shower that can draw moisture out of the skin. Harsh, soapy cleansers do the same. There are many gentle soaps on the market that can be used. Make sure it is fragrance free as fragrance tends to irritate the skin. Avoid cleansers with deodorant or antibacterial additives as well.

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Carolyn Jacob, MD, a dermatologist in Chicago, tells WebMD that cleansers containing a substance called ceramides are wonderful for dry skin in the winter. She states that ceramides are fatty molecules on that make up the outer barrier of the skin. We lose this barrier as we age and products that contain these ceramides helps replace the ones that are lost. Be careful with scrubbing as this also strips away much needed moisture. Toners, peels, and other astringents which have alcohol as an ingredient should also be avoided.

Shaving also irritates the skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the best time to shave is after a shower. The makes the hairs more pliable and soft, while allowing pores to open. This makes shaving easier. Make sure the blade is sharp to decrease irritation. To protect the skin after shaving, use a shaving cream or gel that does not have perfumes, or alcohols and always shave in the direction that the hair is growing.

As heating a home also takes the moisture out of indoor air, a humidifier can replenish lost moisture from dry, itchy skin. Place the humidifier in the room where you sleep. Try to keep indoor humidity at 50%.

Dry itchy skin must be protected from the cold weather. When going outside, it is important to cover up the skin by dressing in layers. This helps to avoid overheating and sweating which can further irritate skin. Always remember to protect the lips, too. Dry, chapped lips in winter call for a lip balm with SPF 15 sunscreen in it. Covering the lips and mouth with a scarf or a hat with a mask goes a long way in keeping those lips moist and kissable.

There are many more things that can be done for dry itchy skin in the cold winter weather. The hands are probably the most affected by the weather. To keep them moist and smooth, after washing hands each time use a gentle moisturizer to keep them supple.



I have dry skin during winter weather. Especially in the middle of night. Breathing becomes difficult because the air seems to be so dry. What can one do about it?
You can use a humidifier at the bedside. Just make sure you keep it clean according to the instructions. If you have a vent on the floor, placing a bowl of water in front of the vent also works.