Caution Needed in Winter Months to Protect Skin from Overdrying and Sun Exposure

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The delayed winter weather has finally arrived in Western Pennsylvania and with the colder, drier air and bitter wind, people must take precautions to care for their skin, according to Suzan Obagi, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and director of the UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Center.

"During the winter, people may notice that their skin becomes drier and itchier," said Dr. Obagi. "The reason for this is two-fold. First, the use of heaters takes moisture out of our homes, thus robbing our skin of the moisture it derives from our environment. Secondly, with the colder weather, we resort to using hotter water in our showers or baths, which further dries out the skin."

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Dr. Obagi says there are steps that people can take to minimize these effects.

  • A humidifier can greatly increase the moisture level in homes. And while a hot shower may feel good on a cold morning, limiting the time spent in the shower can reduce the drying effects on the skin.
  • Limit the use of soap on the skin to the "dirty areas" of the body such as the armpits and the groin.Water alone is usually good enough to cleanse the skin of the arms and legs without risking the drying effectsof soap.
  • Once you step out of the shower, quickly pat-dry your skin and apply a liberal amount of a moisturizing cream or ointment. The application of these agents while the skin is still slightly damp will seal in moisture.
  • The use of 12 percent lactic acid cream as a body moisturizer can help soften rough skin. Ask your pharmacist for creams with this concentration of the active ingredient, lactic acid.

Dr. Obagi also warns that people can still suffer skin damage from the sun's ultraviolet rays during the winter season. "Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays increase in the spring and summer resulting in sunburns, but ultraviolet A (UVA) rays are constant year-round, and these are what cause skin aging," she said.

"UVA penetrates windows and shallow water. Therefore, daily sunscreen use is still a must. For direct sun exposure longer than 10 minutes, use a sun block of at least 35 SPF to minimize further damage to the skin," she added.

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