Winterizing Your Skin

The New Year is here! And so is… dry, itchy, uncomfortable skin.

Here in Arizona, we’re used to dryness, but add cold winds and indoor heating to the mix and it brings the environmental assault on your skin to a whole new level. How can you shield your skin from this annual onslaught? Here are a few tips from our board-certified dermatologists on protecting and caring for winter skin.

Tip #1: Give Your Hands Some Extra Love

Knuckles roasting by an open fire… Yes, even cozy things like a fireplace can dry out skin, causing it to become dry, flaky, itchy and rough. Skin may even feel sensitive to the touch and burn or sting. The biggest victims? Your hands, which have already been taking a beating with all of the extra hand-washing and hand-sanitizing you’ve been doing.

Choose a heavy duty cream or ointment (not lotion) geared for dry skin and apply after every hand-washing. Wearing gloves while washing dishes or doing the housecleaning can also help (remember, hot water strips away moisture). Our doctors also recommend applying a thick layer of moisturizer at night and wearing gloves to bed. You’ll wake up with happier, healthier hands.

Tip #2: Lower the Temperature

Cranking up the heat in the house may happily remind you that you live in the desert and not on the tundra, but central heat sucks the moisture out of the air and your skin. A better option? Set the thermostat to between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit and put on an extra layer.

The temperature tip applies to your showers, too. Hot water dries out your skin, so bathing in warm rather than hot water can give skin a break. Use a fragrance-free (not “unscented” as the term is misleading) cleanser, and when you get out, follow this bonus dermatologist tip: blot yourself dry and apply moisturizer to your whole body, especially trouble spots, while your skin is still damp. This will seal the moisture in.

Tip #3: Moisturize the Whole Room

As your parents likely taught you, it’s not a good idea to leave the refrigerator door open and “refrigerate the whole neighborhood,” but it is a good idea to “moisturize the whole room” with a humidifier during the winter months. Humidifiers can help with winter skin problems like itchy, dry skin and cracked lips (bonus tip: soothe, heal and protect your lips by applying petroleum jelly before you go to bed at night) as well as health issues like irritated sinuses, bloody noses, sore throats and respiratory ailments.

Cracked skin invites germs, so keep an eye out for swelling, discoloration or pus, which are signs of infection. There are cool mist and warm mist humidifier options to choose from, and you’ll benefit most if you run the machine in the rooms you spend the most time in, including your bedroom at night.

Tip #4: Watch What You Wear

Winter fabrics like wool can aggravate dry winter skin, not to mention wool is a common trigger for contact dermatitis. If you have a wool sweater, be sure to wear it over a layer of cotton or other soft material. If you love your wool mittens, put on cotton or silk glove liners first.

Also, if you’ll be hitting the slopes this season or spending any time in snow, be sure to change out of wet clothing and shoes promptly, as they can irritate skin.

Tip #5: Yes, You Still Need to Wear Sunscreen

Last but not least, damaging UV rays can reach your skin even on cold, dreary winter days. Be sure to apply sunscreen every day, no matter the time of year. Many daily facial moisturizers contain sunscreen—check if yours does. You’ll need an SPF of 15 or higher, just like any other day!

If you’ll be “walkin’ in a winter wonderland” you should know that snow reflects up to 80% of the sun’s rays, making sunscreen even more vital. Ski buffs and mountaineers—don’t forget to reapply.

We hope these tips will help you have healthy skin all winter long. Happy New Year from all of us at Arizona Dermatology!