Keeping Winter Skin Hydrated

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Already feeling dry and itchy as the weather changes? Learn from Barnett Dermatology co-founder and board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Channing Barnett, how to keep skin healthy and hydrated as the cooler, harsher climates of winter approach.

“Dry skin, also known as xerosis, is a common problem,” says Dr. Barnett. “Especially as the weather becomes cooler and the air becomes dryer. Your skin needs moisture to stay smooth and hydrated, and retaining moisture becomes difficult in certain climates and as we age. Our skin looses moisture more readily in the fall and winter, and certain things like central heating, harsh winds and skin care products with fragrance can be very drying to the skin.”

Dry skin leads to itching (pruritus), flaking or peeling of the skin, and oftentimes even to rashes.

“What we don’t realize,” says Dr. Barnett, “is that basic daily routines, such as bathing, hand washing and towel drying, remove moisture from the skin.”

While bathing hydrates the skin temporarily, it actually removes the skin's oily lipid layer and in the long run causes more moisture loss than gain. This process not only leads to dryness but can also exacerbate skin conditions such as eczema (inflamed, irritated skin).

“A few simple things can make a big difference in hydrating the skin,” says Dr. Barnett. “Bathe or shower in lukewarm water, because hot water dries out the skin. Try to limit your bathing time to fifteen minutes or less. Bathing should be done no more than once a day (every other day is even better). Avoid using harsh soaps and stick to fragrance-free products.”

Avoid vigorous use of a washcloth, and when toweling dry, do not rub the skin. Pat dry or blot to leave some moisture on the skin.

“Apply a moisturizer (emollient) to the skin immediately after bathing so that it holds in the moisture from the shower,” says Dr. Barnett. “Reapply your moisturizer at bedtime and at other times during the day if possible.”

Emollients can be in the form of ointments, creams, or lotions. Ointments and creams are more occlusive, and therefore, more hydrating than lotions. They should be fragrance free.

Avoid using fabric softeners, especially in the dryer. Avoid irritating fabrics such as wool or other scratchy fabrics. One can never go wrong with cotton.

“Use a humidifier in your home during the central heating season. A cool work or home environment can help reduce the severity of itching. If sweating causes itching, modify your surroundings and activities to minimize sweating,” says Dr. Barnett. “Remember to hydrate by drinking plenty of water.”