Winter Skin Care Tips from a Dermatologist

Cold, dry air leads to cold, dried-out skin, causing itching, flaking, chapping and flare-ups of common skin conditions. But there are things you can do to keep skin soft, supple, and hydrated through the cold winter months. Our dermatologists tell you how.

Cold Weather Skin Problems

First let’s take a look at some common winter skin issues.

Severely Dry Skin. Its medical name is xerosis cutis and it is sometimes referred to as “winter itch.” Severely dry winter skin can turn pink and flaky, leaving behind painful raw patches. More common in winter and in older adults, the condition is usually temporary, but can be uncomfortable

  • What to do? Take shorter, lukewarm showers and apply a fragrance- and dye-free moisturizer containing ceramides, glycerin or petroleum jelly immediately afterward.
  • What not to do? Don’t overscrub your skin or vigorously dry it.

Eczema or Psoriasis. Both of these chronic skin conditions tend to flare up in the cold, dry winter months.

  • What to do? Follow your dermatologist’s recommendations. If you’ve been managing your condition on your own, consider seeing your dermatologist for help with bothersome flare ups in the winter months. For eczema, a vitamin D supplement can help. For psoriasis, try phototherapy.
  • What not to do? Avoid rapid temperature changes and excess stress, which can both exacerbate symptoms.

Chapped Lips. Dry, cracked, or bleeding lips are a common winter complaint.

  • What to do? Choose a lip balm with humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, or plant-based fatty acids like cocoa butter or sunflower oil.
  • What not to do? Avoid lip balms that sting or tingle. Many people think that’s a sign that the active ingredient is working, but it really only means your lips are getting more irritated. Steer clear of any of the following ingredients: camphor, eucalyptus, fragrance, menthol, salicylic acid, phenol or phenyl, lanolin, octinoxate or oxybenzone, propyl gallate, or flavorings like cinnamon or mint.

Cold Urticaria. For some people, the cold can cause hives (itchy welts) similar to an allergic reaction. Most of the time, reactions are mild, but cold urticaria can be accompanied by low blood pressure, lightheadedness or a burning sensation.

  • What to do? An over-the-counter antihistamine can relieve the itching and help the hives go away. Sometimes the reaction occurs due to an underlying medical condition. See your doctor if the problem persists.
  • What not to do? Avoid the trigger, such as swimming in cold water or facing a biting wind, until you can get a proper diagnosis from your doctor.

Prevent Dry Winter Skin

Protect your skin in the winter months with the following tips, which help keep skin hydrated and protected.

  1. Moisturize. Use a fragrance- and dye-free moisturizer after showering every day. Apply when your skin is still damp.
  2. Use warm, not hot, water. Hot water is drying and irritating to already-stressed skin.
  3. Don’t be “too clean.” Soaps and cleansers remove the skin’s natural oils. Wash your face once a day (twice if you have acne). If your hands become dry from regular washing, apply moisturizer while they are still wet.
  4. Use a humidifier. Running a humidifier in your bedroom at night can push moisture into the air and therefore into your skin. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid mold growth in the device.
  5. Cover up. Don’t let skin be exposed to wind and extreme cold. Protect your lips with lip balm and cover your face when outdoors.
  6. Use sunscreen. The winter sun can be just as damaging to your skin as the summer sun. When outdoors in winter, be sure to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more. Sun reflects off of snow, making you more likely to burn when skiing or snowboarding. Don’t forget to reapply!
  7. Avoid tanning beds. Tanning beds and artificial sun lamps increase the risk of skin cancer and contribute to premature aging. If you want to add color to your skin, consider a self-tanning product instead. However, these can be drying to skin as well, so be sure to pair your self-tanner with a quality moisturizer.

If your winter skin complaints persist, come see us at Arizona Dermatology. We can help you have beautiful, youthful, healthy skin all year round!