The Itchy Truth About Dry Winter Skin

Susan J. Huang, MD BIDMC Department of Dermatology

JANUARY 07, 2017

It’s a tale as old as winter itself: The days grow shorter, bitter winds descend from the north, and as you wash your hands with greater urgency to keep seasonal germs at bay, your skin cracks, flakes, and fissures like an over-baked holiday cookie.

dry skin But what causes dry winter skin, and what can you do about it? Here are some tips for staying healthy and itch-free through the dry days of winter.

What is Dry Skin?

Dry skin is a common problem that tends to become worse in winter, when environmental humidity is low. It’s an ailment that affects people of all ages, regardless of whether there’s a history of skin problems.

A typical cause is when there is not enough moisture in the outermost layer of skin. As this layer of skin loses moisture, it shrinks and contracts, resulting in small cracks that expose the underlying layers of skin to environmental irritants. Dermatologists refer to dry skin as “xerosis” or “asteatosis.”

How Do I Know I Have Dry Skin?

Some telltale signs of dry skin are when your hands feel rough or flaky and the normally fine lines of the skin become more visible. You might even see what look like small cuts in your knuckles or knees.

It’s common for dry skin to occur on the arms, hands, and legs, but it can also affect other areas of the body, resulting in irritation or itching that can interfere with sleep, work, and other regular activities.

Severe dry skin can sometimes cause painful cracks in the skin, which increases the risk of infection and may be associated with a condition called eczema.

How Can I Prevent Dry Skin?

It’s important to consider your routine to identify what causes your dry skin, then take the proper steps to resolve them. Hot showers are one of the most common culprits, as hot water and soap tend to rob skin of its natural defenses and oils. One helpful tip is to try showering in warm water (not hot!) for no more than 10 minutes, and make sure to moisturize within three minutes of gently drying off.

Other Tips

  • Add a humidifier to your home. This circulates moisture through the air that will be absorbed by your skin and hair.
  • Use an oil-based moisturizer. Oil-based creams seal moisture into the skin and help preserve natural oils when humidity is low.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water each day helps ensure that your body has enough moisture to keep skin healthy.
  • Change your cleansing routine. Use milder, gentler cleansers instead of harsh, soap-based scrubs that are likely to dry out your skin.

So stay safe, warm, and well-moisturized. Because even though New England winters can be rough, your skin doesn’t have to be.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

January 2017

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.