Winter Warning: Dry Skin Ahead!
By Intermountain Healthcare
Jan 23, 2014
Updated Oct 25, 2023
5 min read
With the cold weather more people than usual suffer from dry irritated skin, especially on the hands. The cold, dry air, along with frequent hot to cold and wet to dry changes, are the common culprits. Sometimes it is just a small nuisance, but for others it can be a blizzard of rough, painful, and cracked skin. Fortunately, there are ways to winter-proof your birthday suit!
Prevention is first! Keep your hands warm and wear gloves outside. Shower and wash in warm or cool water, not hot. Dab dry (instead of rubbing) and apply a moisturizing cream to your troubled areas. Put some cream near the sink to use after washing hands and avoid lotions, as the alcohol in them often dries out your skin even more as it evaporates. Wear comfortable clothes that keep you warm but breathe well so you do not sweat. Keep irritating material (like wool) off your skin. The key is to avoid as many wet to dry episodes as possible (like excessive hand or dish washing) and to lather up with that moisturizer when you can’t avoid it!
If prevention is not enough to keep Jack Frost from irritating your skin, it is time to fight back! Use high-quality moisturizers often. One of the cheapest is plain petroleum jelly, like Vaseline, but there are many others that don’t leave you quite as greasy (so you can still open doors)! Before going to bed, lather up well so that sleep time can be healing time. To avoid getting your sheets oily from greased up hands, cover your hands with clean socks. This not only keeps sheets clean but helps to keep the moisturizer in place during the night. One way to protect cracked skin from infection and further damage is to put antibiotic ointment on the area and cover with a band aid.
For moderately irritated spots, a trial of over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream two to three times a day for up to a week can often help stop the flares. You should still use the moisturizer creams during the rest of the day. Hydrocortisone, a mild steroid cream, helps to calm down the irritation and let the skin heal. Steroids can certainly have side-effects like thinning the skin or changing skin pigmentation (color), so they should not be used for extended periods of time without physician supervision. If it calms down within the week of treatment then stop using the hydrocortisone and continue with regular preventative measures, otherwise schedule an appointment with your doctor.
While proper care and prevention can often keep that co-pay in your pocket, there are times when extra help from your doctor is needed. Extreme redness or pain can sometimes indicate there is more than just dry skin or eczema at play and a doctor should evaluate it. If there are other symptoms, like fever, cough, body aches, sore throat, fatigue, etc., then getting it checked out is best. Of course, a visit with your physician is needed if you have been trying the above measures and are not seeing improvement or if it is worsening.