Dry Winter Skin Still Here!

winterWe have reached the month of March after an especially harsh winter here in New England, and many of you are probably happy that the end of winter is literally just a few weeks away.  However, despite all the talk and hopes about spring, one aspect of winter that will persist for some time will be the low humidities, and with it the associated dry skin.

Skin gets the driest in areas of the body most frequently washed, such as the hands, because washing the skin with soap removes natural oils. Parts of the body most exposed to the cold environment of winter, such as the face, lower legs and arms, also tend to get drier than places that a winter jacket, hat, and scarf can cover up easily.

winter_skin_magnifySigns of dry skin seem obvious to anyone who has had it, but it can actually vary in manifestation from person to person.  Signs and symptoms of dry winter skin include one or more of the following:

  • Rough-feeling or -looking skin
  • Flaking, scaling, or peeling skin
  • Itchiness, especially in areas without apparent rash or other cause
  • Feeling of skin tightness occurring, especially after washing the area
  • Fine lines
  • Redness
  • Cracks in skin that can be painful and even bleed

man-applying-lotionTo alleviate the symptoms and appearance of dry skin described above, a treatment is needed both to restore moisture to the skin, and prevent the skin from losing that moisture afterwards.  The following are effective preventive measures as well as methods to treat existing dry skin:

  • Avoid hot water.  Hot water, while it feels good, especially after you have been out in the cold, removes natural oils from the skin. Use lukewarm water instead.
  • Avoid harsh soaps.  Most strong soaps also remove oils in addition to their intended targets of dirt and grime.  It is best to use soaps that are considered gentle and contain oils or fats as a major component of their ingredients.
  • Moisturize.  Moisturizers keep moisture or water from escaping from your skin.  They should be applied immediately after the skin area is washed and is still damp.  In the world of moisturizers, generally thicker is better.  If the problem is particularly advanced or severe, sometimes it is best to apply an oil, such as baby oil, directly onto the problem area.
  • Raise humidity.  The heating systems of many homes in winter can significantly lower humidity in the air, especially forced hot air types.  Combat this with a portable home humidifier which is best run in the bedroom where you spend the hours of your day in your house.  Alternatively and more expensively, a humidifier system can be added to many furnaces, which can adjust humidity automatically.  The only other issue of concern for humidifiers is that they be kept clean as they can accumulate bacteria and fungi over time.
  • Drink water.  While the environment is trying to remove water from your skin, you need to do your part by hydrating your skin from the inside.  A relatively dehydrated person will not have the water to divert to the skin as many other organs, especially the kidneys, have higher priorities for your body.
  • Wear gentle fabrics.  Some fabrics worn during the winter such as wool can be abrasive to dry skin, increasing local irritation especially at points of friction.  Generally, cotton and silk are not abrasive, while still helping to retain warmth.

Seasonal and chronic dry skin are common problems, but also have relatively simple solutions if you know the biology of the condition.  If your symptoms do not improve with these tips above, give us a call at Maine Laser Skin Care at (207) 873-2158 for a free consultation, or consult your primary care provider.

About Dr. John Burke

John Burke M.D. has practiced medicine for over 25 years, and is the founding partner of MidMaine Internal Medicine. He established Maine Laser Skin Care in 2004 after devoting years to learning the latest in laser and dermatologic technology. Dr. Burke has treated patients from all over the United States. He is one of Maine's busiest practitioners in laser treatments, and in the use of Botox for upper facial lines and excessive sweating.
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