While we’ve had a mild winter so far, colder temperatures, less humidity and indoor heating deplete the thin layer of oil that traps moisture in the skin. The result is often the dreaded “winter itch,” resulting in itchy, flaky skin. For those with skin conditions, these extremely dry conditions may exacerbate existing conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and other chronic skin problems.
In addition to the lack of humidity outside and colder conditions, Coloradans enjoy sports and recreations outside. Not only are we exposed to harsh UV rays (link to blog) anywhere in Colorado year around, but when we ski and snowboard at higher altitudes we face harsher UV rays that are compounded by the rays reflecting off the snow—a double whammy! While many of us are on the slopes, wind gusts can roar through the mountains leaving their marks on our exposed skin.
But the outside climate and indoor heating are not the only challenges. During cold and flu season, we may use a lot of hand sanitizers and harsh soaps as well.
How do you know if you are suffering from the winter itch?
Often skin will feel dry, tight and itchy. The winter itch can occur anywhere on your body or all over. Here are a few telltale signs:
- Chapped lips
- Winter skin breakouts
- Puffiness or bags under eyes
- Cracking skin or rashes
To fight these harsh conditions, here’s ways to soothe and care for your skin:
- Shield your skin with heavy-duty creams, mineral oil or petroleum jelly rather than lotions. While we moisturize our skin all year long in Colorado, it’s important to find the right products for winter conditions. For an over-the-counter heavy-duty option, look for products that contain lactic acid, ceramides and humectants (glycerin, hyaluronic acid) that pull water from your dermis (the side layer of your skin) to the epidermis (outside layer of skin).
- Exfoliate skin, but gently. Exfoliating is important for keeping bright and healthy. In winter, dead, flaky skin accumulates more quickly when dry conditions sap our skin of moisture. At home, you can use creams, cleansers and toners with salicylic or lactic acid. Try a gentle exfoliating scrub twice per week for your face and body. Neutragena’s Pink Grapefruit Foaming Scrub for the body and Deep Clean Gentle Scrub for the face has exfoliating beads, helping to remove skin cells without damaging skin.
- Take shorter showers. Avoid long, hot showers and baths that dry and dehydrate skin, remove natural oils from skin and amplify winter itchiness.
- Dress for the outdoor conditions. Protect skin with gloves, hats and scarves. But be wary of itchy wool and some synthetic fabrics that can irritate the winter itch.
- Use broad-spectrum sunscreen every day. Apply sunscreen daily with an SPF of 30 or more. Reapply every two hours. Don’t forget about your lips. Use lip balm with SPF to hydrate and protect your lips. Look for products with petroleum or beeswax.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Stay hydrated. Drink water. Refrain from too much alcohol.
- Eat hydrating foods. Include available, healthy fruits and veggies with high levels of water and rich antioxidants in your diet, such as berries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, oranges, apples and pears. For veggies, add cucumbers, leafy greens, peppers, broccoli, spinach and more. Foods rich in omega-3’s can be an added boost to your skin’s natural oil production as well. Add flax seeds, walnuts, salmon or other cold-water fish, and safflower oil.
- Use a humidifier. During the winter months, run a humidifier to combat the indoor heating. Make sure to clean it regularly.
Frustrated with the winter itch?
You may need help to combat dry, flaky skin this winter.
If the winter itch becomes too much for you or a family member, you may need to visit your dermatologist. Remember we also have a pediatric dermatologist who can address the winter itch or other skin conditions your child or teen may be facing.