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Winter Skin Issues: Tips for Taking Care of Dry Skin

When we think winter, we think “cold.” True, and winter air is also drier, which we can’t always feel – but our skin does!

“As the temperature outside drops and the heaters inside do their job, our skin really feels the effects of the dry air,” says Dr. Kyle Herbold of Golden State Dermatology, Manteca. “This can lead to increased dryness, itching, and even eczema.”

If you’re tempted to skip the moisturizer because your skin is covered up more than in summer, don’t be. Dry skin is fragile and easily irritated. If you notice cracking, redness, or a rash – your body is asking for help!

Top Tips to Derail Dry Skin

  • Apply moisturizer right after you take a bath or shower (or wash your hands). This helps to keep the existing moisture in your skin.
  • For extremely dry skin, consider using an ointment or cream. As Dr. Herbold points out, sometimes people shy away from these heavier treatments, but “they are more effective and less irritating than lotions.”
  • When skin is dry, it’s extra sensitive. Skip any product with fragrance (like fabric softener or laundry detergent), avoid antibacterial items (like soaps and deodorants), and try to wear softer, natural fabrics against your skin.
  • Turn down the heat in your shower or bath. Aim for warm water versus hot, which only dries out skin more.

Why are Hot Showers Bad for Your Skin?

It seems counter-intuitive. If it’s cold outside, a hot shower should be a great way to warm up! It might make you feel better temporarily, but it’s not helping your skin. Here’s why.

The skin has three layers, the subcutis, the dermis, and the epidermis. The epidermis is the top layer, designed to protect you with cells called keratinocytes. Based on the name, you might guess they’re full of keratin (which is also in your hair and nails). This layer protects your other skin’s layers from the environment and helps retain moisture by producing a thin layer of oil. 

During a hot shower, the heat and soap melt and strip away that protective barrier. That can be good if you’re sweaty, stinky, or dirty, but it can deplete your skin of the moisture it needs to be healthy. The longer/hotter/soapier the shower, the more damage. If you notice your skin is red and itchy after a shower or bath, it could be a signal you’ve lost too much moisture.

Are All Moisturizers the Same?

Short answer: no.

“When choosing a moisturizer, tailor the product to the intensity of xerosis (dryness).  For example, for mild dry skin, choose a ceramide or hyaluronic acid rich lotion. For medium dry skin, a similar cream, but for extreme dry skin, consider an ointment,” said Shareefa Saleh, PA-C from Golden State Dermatology, Walnut Creek. (Ointments are dispensed in a tube or jar, because of their thickness, versus a pump for lotions.)

Look for products containing glycerin, lanolin, mineral oil, petrolatum, and shea butter, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, and don’t use the same lotion or cream on your body as your face. The skin on the face is thinner and more sensitive. What works for your body – a heavier cream, for example – may cause breakouts on your face.

And think about your anti-aging products as well. They may be designed to moisturize, but if they contain glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or retinol, that could irritate your drier, more sensitive winter skin. You can still use them, but less frequently.

Don’t Be Lulled into Security: The Dangers of UVA

Many people skip sunscreen in the winter. After all, the sun is less intense, and in some parts of the country, it doesn’t show up much at all in the colder months. But skin protection has to be year-round.

“Although the burning, UVB rays are less intense, the aging and more deeply penetrating UVA rays are still able to damage the skin during the winter,” said Dr. Herbold.  “Look for a sunscreen or moisturizer with sunscreen containing zinc oxide as an active ingredient to optimally protect the skin.”

If you think of wearing extra layers of clothing in the winter, apply that same thought to your skin – put on an extra “layer” of protective moisturizer. As the body’s largest organ, your skin needs to stay healthy to keep you healthy.

Concerned about dry skin that has become unmanageable? Book an appointment with your GSD provider.


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