Dry skin is more common in the winter than in the warmer months. The changes in humidity and temperature at this time of the year can cause irritation that results in dry skin.
Dry skin can affect many people during the winter, and the severity of the symptoms can vary significantly. Various treatments can replenish the moisture of the skin and relieve the symptoms. People can also take certain steps to prevent the skin from becoming dry.
This article looks at dry winter skin in more detail, including its causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment.
Winter brings changes in humidity and temperature that create perfect conditions for causing dry skin, also known as xerosis.
The outermost layer of the skin is called the epidermis. The thin outer surface of the epidermis is the stratum corneum, also known as the skin barrier.
A combination of lipids and dying or dead skin cells makes up the skin barrier. The skin barrier forms a layer of protection that prevents harmful toxins from entering the body. When the skin barrier sustains damage, the skin appears dry or irritated.
Moisture is essential for the skin barrier to perform well.
During the winter months, people often turn their indoor heating up high, which reduces humidity and affects how much moisture is available to the skin.
At the same time, the cold outdoor weather, harsh winds, and rain can strip the skin of its natural, moisturizing oils.
Taking hot baths or showers can also damage the surface of the skin, leading to dryness, according to the Baylor College of Medicine. Using harsh soaps and rubbing the skin vigorously when drying it can contribute to skin damage.
The level of moisture in the skin also varies with age, gender, ethnicity, and environmental factors. Other medical conditions can also contribute to dry skin.
Dryness that results from damage to the skin barrier during winter can lead to:
- rough patches
- redness, in lighter skin tones
- a raw, sensitive-to-the-touch feeling
People may experience several of these symptoms at the same time. The right treatment should reduce their severity.
Dry and damaged skin needs moisture replenishment. It is best to keep a skin care regimen as simple as possible when treating dry skin. A simple regimen avoids overloading the skin with unnecessary products, such as toners, serums, and heavy makeup.
Using a moisturizer is the best way to rehydrate the epidermis and prevent water loss from the skin. Thick, greasy moisturizers without perfumes are generally the best option. Thinner gels, lotions, and creams can cause stinging when a person uses them on irritated skin.
Moisturizers containing emollients, which include linoleic, linolenic, and lauric acids, can help smooth the surface of the skin. They fill the spaces between skin cells where there has been a loss of moisture.
Humectants in moisturizers help attract moisture to the skin. Examples of humectants include:
- hyaluronic acid
Other ingredients, such as lanolin, silicone, and mineral oil, help seal moisture into the skin. They also form a protective barrier to reduce damage from environmental factors.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, it is very important to apply moisturizer as soon as possible after patting the skin dry following a shower or bath. This approach will seal in as much moisture as possible.
When the seasons start to change, people can avoid getting dry winter skin by taking the following steps:
- Adjusting skin care regimens: Skin requires different treatment during colder weather, including the use of a more protective moisturizer. Cutting back on exfoliating scrubs, face masks, and steam treatments will also reduce damage to the skin barrier.
- Staying hydrated:
Drinking plenty of waterboosts skin hydration, which helps it stay smooth. Eating foods or taking supplements that contain omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids might also help.
- Using a humidifier: This device can introduce moisture back into the air, helping rehydrate the outer layer of skin. Alternatively, a person can place a bowl of water on top of a radiator so that as the heat rises, it carries water vapor along with it.
- Limiting exposure to heat: People can do this by taking a lukewarm bath or shower rather than a hot one and avoiding sitting in front of a fire or heater. Excessive heat can draw vital moisture away from the skin.
- Protecting the skin with clothing: Many people experience dry skin on the hands, particularly now that regular hand washing and sanitizing have become more commonplace. Wearing gloves in cold temperatures and when washing dishes will help prevent the skin from drying out.
The use of home remedies can improve most cases of dry skin. If they have no effect, a person can contact a healthcare professional, such as a pharmacist, doctor, or dermatologist. These professionals can prescribe the right products or recommend next steps.
Dry winter skin is not an inevitable consequence of the coldest season. Being conscious of the skin barrier and what it needs to stay healthy can help people take the necessary steps to prevent this uncomfortable condition.