New York Dermatologist on Common Winter Skin Problems

Posted on: January 6, 2014

Simple Ways to Save Your Skin this Winter

by Athena G. Kaporis, MD, FAAD, Attending, Department of Medicine, Division of Dermatology, Northern Westchester Hospital

iStock_21778999_HiRezSurprise: most winter skin damage is caused not by cold, but by dryness. So if you do one thing, keep your skin moist. Here are the most common winter skin problems, remedies for them, and tips for avoiding damage to your skin as temps drop, winds howl, and indoor heat blasts.

Hand dermatitis shows up as cracked, chapped dry skin, and scaly raised plaques on the backs of hands, around cuticles and on fingers. People go outside without gloves, their hands get chafed (irritated), then they go inside and indoor heating continues drying them out. Remedies: Moisturize hands after washing, and if they’re very chapped, mix a little Vaseline with over-the-counter hydrocortisone, which reduces inflammation.

Most people, especially kids, lick our lips when we’re outside, trying to moisten them. In fact, we’re making them drier. And this can lead to chapped lips, or cheilitis. A good remedy is Aquaphor healing ointment, a combo of mineral oil and petroleum gel. It’s safe for kids, and can be applied as often as needed. If it feels too greasy, just use it at night. Like the lip guard you already use? Stick with it! The idea is simply to keep a barrier on the lips. And try not to lick them when outside!

Pruritus, or itchy skin, results from dryness. You come in from the cold, take a long hot shower, which actually dries out the skin, then indoor heating makes it worse. To treat, moisturize your whole body (I like Cetaphil, Aveeno and Eucerin products). After showering and towel-blotting, moisturize skin while it’s still a hint damp. Other remedies and preventative measures include humidifying your bathroom, avoiding wool, harsh drying soaps and soaps with added fragrance, closing the bathroom door while bathing to naturally humidify the air, and using warm – not hot – water, which is less drying.

Older folks are more likely to have seborrheic dermatitis, or “dandruff of the skin,” the familiar scaling of the scalp, eyebrows, nose and ears. Dryness worsens the condition. For the scalp, I advise alternating two anti-dandruff shampoos, so you’re using different treatments for the same problem. For skin areas, such as the eyebrows, I suggest an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.

Take winter skin damage seriously. If it doesn’t get better, see a dermatologist.
Inflamed skin is more prone to irritation. So if you scratch it, it can get infected.

Drinking water in winter is very important for skin. When it’s dark outside and you crave that warm cup of coffee – be aware that it dehydrates you. Compensate by drinking more water. Be sure to load up on fruits and vegetables that hydrate, too. Their anti-oxidants help ward off skin damage and help maintain healthy skin.

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