By Brent D. Wainwright, MD FAAD |Dermatology & Dermatologic Surgery
Winter weather can exacerbate many skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, rosacea and dandruff. Moreover, the cold dry air can lead to dry itchy skin and dermatitis even if you do not suffer from chronic skin problems.
Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin and can cause an itchy rash or patches of dry irritated skin that sometimes requires treatment with prescription medication. However, you can minimize the effects winter weather has on your skin by following a few basic guidelines.
It is important to limit the time spent in the shower or bath and to use mild fragrance free soap or soap free cleansers when bathing. A hot shower on a cold day may make you feel good; however, the increased blood flow to the skin can flare dermatitis and remove more of your body’s natural skin oils. Warm water is best for bathing and a 5-10 minute shower will allow your skin all the time it needs to absorb added moisture. Limit bathing to once a day and consider using soap only on dirty and/or odor producing areas thereby minimizing the removal of protective oils.
After bathing you should blot your skin dry and immediately apply a moisturizer while the skin is still damp. A moisturizer will help “lock in” moisture from the bath and you should select one that is mild and not overly fragrant. In general ointments and creams will preserve moisture better than a lotion. The use of a moisturizer several times every day improves skin hydration and barrier function. You may also use a heavy emollient such as petrolatum jelly or Aquaphor to protect lips and cheeks while in the cold. Using a humidifier at home is also helpful as it will increase humidity and lessen the evaporation of your skin’s own moisture.
It is also important to remember to use sun block on exposed areas especially if you are enjoying winter sports like skiing. Snow reflects sunlight and higher elevation increases exposure to harmful UV rays. Make sure to use protective clothing such as a scarf and gloves to help prevent chapped lips and hands.
If you do develop dermatitis avoid scratching and rubbing since this action tends to cause flares and can lead to superficial skin infections. If the skin care tips outlined here do not improve your winter skin issues you should contact your health care provider who may need to treat you with prescription medication. Worsening redness, pain, or swelling may indicate infection and should be evaluated professionally.