Protect your skin from the elements — outside and indoors — this winter. Add a few dermatologist-approved steps to your skin care routine to fight seasonally dry and itchy skin.
by The Iowa Clinic on Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Iowa winters blanket the state in white flakes. Snow covers the cities and countryside and can make for some rough travels.
The long, cold winter has the same effect on your body. As the seasons change, your skin changes, too. Your knuckles turn white. Your hands and feet become dry and rough — even flaky. Wrinkles are more defined. And the skin on your face feels tight.
While the weather outside is frightful, your skin doesn’t have to be. When temps are down, ramp up your skin care regimen to keep your face, hands and feet healthy and hydrated.
Why does winter make my skin so dry?
There are a lot of factors. But cold weather is the biggest one. It gets extremely cold and windy in Iowa and, unlike our muggy summers, there’s no humidity in the air.
These environmental factors cause the moisture in your skin to evaporate more quickly. Since your hands and face are more exposed to the elements, they’re more likely to feel the effects of winter weather.
Cold, dry air isn’t the only problem. There are a number of other things winter brings that make healthy skin harder to maintain:
- Constant heating indoors – The air inside can do as much damage as the air outdoors. Winter forces you to spend more time indoors with the thermostat turned up, exposing your skin to dry, forced air day and night.
- Longer hot showers and baths – A long, hot shower or a relaxing bath is more appealing when it’s cold outside. And the temperature in your home can make you linger in the warmth for a little longer. But hot water and the extended time you spend in it strips your skin of its protective oils.
- Frequent handwashing – Practicing good hygiene and preventing cold and flu have similar effects on your hands. The more you wash to keep the germs away, the more you dry out your skin. Alcohol-based, antibacterial hand sanitizers can make the problem worse.
- Poor diet – Unhealthy food choices tempt you from Halloween through the New Year. Indulging in all the holiday treats affects your skin as much as your waistline because you're fueling your body with bad fats — not the good ones that help keep your skin smooth and elastic.
- Licking your lips – Cold air and winds chap your lips. You may instinctively lick them more often to temporarily replenish the lost moisture. That feeling is gone as soon as the saliva dries up. So like frequent handwashing, it actually dries your skin out even more.
How can I avoid dry, itchy skin?
You need to step up your skin care game in the winter. All those elements suck the moisture from your skin and reduce its ability to even hold the moisture you try to add back in. Things you may normally do — like moisturize your face and apply lotion after a hot shower — aren’t enough in the winter months.
Moisturizing is still a critical part of your skin care routine, but there are many other ways to increase your skin’s natural moisture and prevent dry, itchy, flaky, white skin.
1. Limit your time in the tub or shower.
Keep your showers to 10 minutes or less. If you enjoy a long bath, add baking soda to the tub to relieve itchy skin. Wash up in warm water instead of hot. You want it to feel more like a heated pool than a hot tub.
2. Stick to gentle skin products and practices.
Many skin care products have alcohol or alkaline pH balances that dry out your skin. Find products with gentler formulas for the cold winter months. Hold off on any chemical peels, masks, exfoliants or harsh cleansers until spring. Those products can help revitalize your skin. But when you’re already dry and itchy, they can make the problem worse.
3. Run a humidifier.
Humidifiers are handy in cold and flu season. They help ease symptoms and relieve scratchy throats and dry nasal passages. They’re also good at relieving dry skin and chapped lips. Place a humidifier in the room you’re in the most and by your bed when you sleep to add moisture back into the air.
4. Wear gloves or mittens and scarves outside.
The easiest way to protect your skin from extreme cold and wind is to layer up. Wrap a scarf around your face before and wear warm gloves or mittens when you head outdoors.
The skin on your hands is thin and more prone to cracking. If your hands are dry and cracked, apply moisturizer before you put on mittens or gloves to help lock in the moisture. Wear thin cotton gloves under warmer wool ones to prevent itching and irritation.
5. Moisturize more.
Applying moisturizer after you wash your face, shower or clean your hands is good practice year-round. Come wintertime though, it's still not enough to compensate for all drying elements of the season. You’ll find yourself rubbing lotion on your hands and face more frequently.
Instead of relying on creams and lotions, switch to an oil-based or ointment moisturizer. Ointments are the best at trapping moisture in your skin. For best results, apply ointment a few minutes after you wash and dry your face, hands or body.
6. Seek help from a skin specialist.
Deciphering ingredients on the labels and choosing the best skin care products are not easy tasks. And when winter hits your face and hands hard, you can’t settle for trial and error. You want results right away.
Schedule a visit with a dermatologist or consult an aesthetician to get immediate help for your dry, itchy skin. They can analyze your skin type, offer advice on your skin care routine and recommend the best products for you.