By Dr. Amy Newburger, Westmed dermatologist
Wintertime in the north brings with it dry weather, blustery winds, and a change in skin metabolism. The drop in absolute humidity makes the moisture in skin harder to hold, and our skin becomes much less flexible. Blood circulation to the skin is less in cold weather because it is more important to keep our inner body organs (like the heart, kidneys, etc.,) functioning at normal temperatures than the outer part. With less circulation, the skin is less able to repair minor abrasions and roughness.
Skin keeps the germs out and the moisture in, and acts as an envelope to protect our bodies.
Dry wintertime skin can flake, itch, crack, and even bleed. To help relieve dry skin, and maintain normal barriers, I recommend the following:
- Keep baths and showers short. Use warm, not hot water, and a mild cleanser. Gently pat the skin dry.
- Apply moisturizer after getting out of the bath or shower, within 5-10 minutes. Ointments and creams tend to be more effective than lotions.
- Read ingredients on skin care products. Deodorant soaps, alcohol-based toners, astringents, and products that contain fragrance can irritate dry, sensitive skin.
- Use a humidifier to add much-needed moisture to the air when the absolute (not relative) humidity reads below 50 percent.
- Wear soft fabrics that breathe, such as 100 percent cotton. If you want to wear wool and other rough fabrics, wear a soft fabric underneath.
- Don’t skimp on hand washing, which can remove harmful bacteria and viruses. If you need to wash your hands frequently, hand sanitizers are a good alternative.
- Apply hand cream after each hand washing. If more relief is needed, dab petroleum jelly on your hands before bed. If your hands are frequently immersed in water, wear waterproof gloves to help protect them. There are many hand creams that do not leave a greasy residue, and are unscented and hypoallergenic.
- Cover up skin exposed to the elements on frigid days, as much as possible. Wear gloves, a hat, and even a scarf protecting your nose. If it’s very cold outside, sock and glove liners will offer further protection and maintain skin function.
With these preventive measures, you’ll be protecting the largest organ of the body—your skin—from wintertime’s freezing temperatures and blustery winds.