All winter flakes are not made of snow. Cold weather wreaks havoc on our skin, sometimes making it dry and flaky. Skin dries out if it's deprived of water and this dryness often causes itchiness, resulting in a condition commonly referred to as "winter itch."
"Most of us experience dry and itchy skin from time to time, but you should seek medical attention if discomfort becomes severe," says Dr. Anjali Dahiya, a dermatologist at the Iris Cantor Women's Health Center at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "The best thing you can do to relieve the itch is to moisturize your skin because, unfortunately, you can't do anything about the weather."
"Remember, dry skin is due to lack of water. Apply moisturizers immediately after bathing or showering, while your skin is still wet to trap water in the skin," notes Dr. Dahiya.
She suggests the following tips to turn your skin from alligator into suede:
- Moisturize daily. Cream moisturizers are better than lotions for normal to dry skin. If you have sensitive skin, choose a moisturizer without fragrance or lanolin.
- Cleanse your skin, but don't overdo it. Too much cleansing removes skin's natural moisturizers. It is enough to wash your face, hands, feet, and between the folds of your skin once a day. While you can rinse your trunk, arms, and legs daily; it is not necessary to use soap or cleanser on these areas every day.
- Limit the use of hot water and soap. If you have "winter itch," take short lukewarm showers or baths with a non-irritating, non-detergent-based cleanser. Immediately afterward, apply a mineral oil or petroleum jelly type moisturizer. Gently pat skin dry.
- Humidify. Humidifiers can be beneficial. However, be sure to clean the unit according to the manufacturer's instructions to reduce mold and fungi.
- Protect yourself from the wind. Cover your face and use a petroleum-based balm for your lips.
- Avoid extreme cold. Cold temperatures can cause skin disorders or frostbite in some people. See a doctor immediately if you develop color changes in your hands or feet accompanied by pain or ulceration. If you develop extreme pain followed by loss of sensation in a finger or toe, you may have frostbite.
- Protect your skin from the sun. Winter sun can be as dangerous to the skin. Even in the winter months you should use a sunscreen with a sun-protection factor of 15 or greater, if you will be outdoors for prolonged periods. Overexposure to the sun's rays can lead to premature aging of the skin and skin cancer.
- See your dermatologist. If you have persistent dry skin, scaling, itching, skin growths that concern you, or other rashes, see your dermatologist -- not only in winter but throughout the year.