Dry skin? Eczema? Take care of your skin this winter.

Whether or not you normally have dry skin, winter can wreak havoc on your skin. Low humidity and the process of heating our homes contribute to dry skin problems in the winter. If you have eczema, you may also notice repeated flare ups in the winter months. While dry skin isn’t life threatening, it does affect your daily life. You may experience itching, sometimes intense enough to impact your sleep or daily activities. Repeated itching can also cause your skin to become rough and thick, which, in turn, can crack and bleed. Dry patches of skin may also become infected and require antibiotics if left untreated. Here are some tried and true ways of combating dry skin this winter.

What causes dry skin?

Your skin is made up of several layers. The top outermost layer (called the stratum corneum) is essentially a layer of dead skin cells surrounded by a mixture of natural oils. These oils are made by the  lower layers of living skin cells. The natural oils in your skin protect your body and keep your skin smooth and pliable. When the oils are stripped away from your skin and moisture is lost, your skin becomes dry. This can happen when you use too much soapy water, expose your skin to harsh chemicals, run your furnace in the winter, and as you get older. There are also certain skin conditions that decrease the amount of protective oils in your skin. 

How do I know if I have dry skin?

Dry skin takes on a patchy, flaky, and scaly appearance. If you’re experiencing winter dryness, you may notice a tight feeling in your skin, cracking, dullness, or itching. You may also experience eczema, where the skin becomes red, scaly, and inflamed. Most often, dry skin happens on arms, legs, hands and feet, but you can also experience dry skin on your torso.

Reducing winter dryness

Although dry winter skin can be hard to combat, there are things you can do to improve your dry skin or eczema. Keep these tips in mind this winter:

  • Shower smart. You might love a hot bath or shower, but your skin doesn’t. Turn the tap to warm and avoid making your dry skin worse. Additionally, you should keep your showers short (10 minutes or less) and only shower once a day – which not only saves your skin but saves water too. Minimize your soap use to essential areas (groin, underarms, etc.). After getting out of the bath or shower, apply a moisturizer to lock in water before it evaporates. Reapply moisturizer throughout the day as needed.
  • Humidify. As your central heating (or other heating systems) heat the air in your home, they remove moisture from the air. Setting up humidifiers in your home will help to keep the air moist, which in turn will help you fight dry skin. 
  • Choose the right moisturizer. Not all moisturizers are created equal. When you want a heavy hitting moisturizer, the thicker the moisturizer, the better. These types of moisturizers can be greasy, but they trap moisture in your skin better than thinner moisturizers. If you find that certain brands irritate your skin, try something else until you find something that will work for your skin. 
  • Avoid harsh face cleansers. The harsh chemicals in certain facial cleansers can strip your face of its natural oils. Use a mild foaming cleanser with no alcohol when washing your face. This will clean your face without stripping away essential oils. If using face masks, avoid clay-based masks which can draw moisture out of your face. 
  • Skip the fragrance. When you're choosing moisturizers, lotions, and other bath products, avoid those with fragrance, dyes, and alcohol. These can irritate sensitive skin. This is especially important if you have eczema, but also if you have dry skin. 

Talk to your doctor

You may not need to discuss your dry skin with your doctor. Most dry skin issues can be solved at home with the right care. However, if you think you have eczema, or if your eczema seems difficult to treat, you may need to speak with a dermatologist. He can recommend a hydrocortisone ointment or other treatments that will help improve your skin.

Winter can be a difficult time for your skin. When you feel the dry, chapped, or itchy skin coming on, head it off with the proper care. It doesn’t take much to have healthy, glowing skin all winter long.