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. Diane Berson, a dermatologist at the Iris Cantor Women's Health Center of 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, not oil. Apply moisturizers immediately after bathing or showering to trap water in the skin," notes Dr. Berson.

She suggests the following tips to turn your skin from alligator into suede:
  • Moisturize daily. Cream moisturizers are best for normal to dry skin. People with sensitive skin should choose a moisturizer without perfume or lanolin.
  • Cleanse your skin, but don't overdo it. It is enough to wash your face, hands, feet, and between the folds of your skin once a day. The trunk, arms, and legs can be rinsed daily, but it is not necessary to use soap or cleanser on these areas everyday. Too much cleansing removes the skin's natural moisturizers.
  • 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 "water-in-oil" 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 for the skin as summer sun. It can lead to premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. When outdoors for prolonged periods, use a sunscreen with a sun-protection factor of 15 or greater.
  • Exercise. For skin with a healthy glow, 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week is recommended.
  • 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.
Original article date: 2 November 2005
Article updated: 10 October 2010