All winter flakes are not made of snow. Cold weather, with its low relative humidity, wreaks havoc on our skin, making it dry and flaky. Skin dries out if it's deprived of moisture and this dryness often aggravates itchiness, resulting in a condition commonly referred to as "winter itch."
During the winter the air is drier, and indoor heating further depletes your skin of moisture. Fortunately, there are several ways that you can replenish the water content of your skin.
Dr. Robyn Gmyrek, a dermatologist and director of the Skin and Laser Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, suggests the following ten tips to help turn your alligator skin into suede:
- Moisturize daily. Petrolatum or cream-based moisturizers are far better than lotions for normal to dry skin. If you have sensitive skin, choose a moisturizer without fragrance or lanolin. Apply moisturizer directly to your wet skin after bathing to ensure that the moisturizer can help to trap surface moisture.
- Cleanse your skin, but don't overdo it. Too much cleansing removes the 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 thick cream or a petroleum-jelly-type moisturizer. Gently pat skin dry.
- Humidify. Dry air can pull the moisture from your skin. Room humidifiers can be very beneficial. However, be sure to clean the unit and change the water according to the manufacturer's instructions to reduce mold and fungi.
- Protect yourself from the wind. Cover your face and use a petrolatum-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. Remember that winter sun can also be 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 sunlight can lead to premature aging of the skin and skin cancer.
- Avoid winter tanning. Tanning beds and artificial sunlamps are always damaging to your skin and increase your risk of skin cancer. If you want to keep your summer glow, use self-tanners along with extra moisturizer as self-tanners can also dry out your skin.
- Take vitamin D supplements. During the summer months your natural vitamin D production increases due to daily sun exposure, but when winter rolls around that exposure decreases. Taking vitamin supplements can ensure that you are getting the recommended amounts of vitamin D all year.
- 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.