Your skin is a living organ that is responsible for cooling your body, protecting it against germs and invaders, and many other metabolic processes. Maintaining good skin condition year-round encourages these tissues to keep you healthy and safe. Autumn is the time to get ready for the upcoming chilly temperatures that can trigger winter itch. Usually, this very common cold-weather, dry-skin phenomenon creates mild to moderate itching from lack of moisture.
“The lower temperatures, wind, and humidity of winter months cause the outer layer of the skin to dry out, becoming less flexible, which may cause cracking,” said James Leyden, dermatology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “This cracking actually increases the rate of moisture loss.” Research shows that these environmental and personal hygienemeasures can help you overcome annoying and uncomfortable winter itch.
1. Increase Indoor Humidity
Dry indoor air can strip moisture from your skin, making it flaky and itchy. Relative humidity, the amount of moisture in the air, is naturally lower in the winter. Heating your indoor air dries it out even more. Raising the humidity will help your skin and will save you money because you won’t need as much heat to feel comfortable. Use a humidity monitor to track level sand regulate humidity properly. If it’s below 35-40 percent, introduce moisture with a humidifier or pans of water to evaporate into the air. Don’t let humidity go above 50 percent, which can create a friendly environment for dust mites and mold.
2. Modify Bathing Habits
In winter, people tend to linger in hot baths or showers because they feel so good. Unfortunately, this luxury can strip protective oils from your skin. Try these tips:
Take no more than one daily bath or shower in lukewarm water for 15 minutes or less.
Avoid harsh deodorant and antibacterial bar soaps. Use a non-foaming cleansing cream or liquid shower gel with added moisturizers instead. Your arms and legs don’t need soaping every day, so just rinse them with water periodically.
Try installing a shower filter that removes chlorine and other chemicals from the water.
Use bath oil in the tub. Or when you exit the tub or shower, pat lightly with a soft towel. Apply a petrolatum or cream-based moisturizer while your skin is still damp to help seal in moisture. If your skin is sensitive, choose a fragrance-free moisturizer without lanolin. For extremely dry skin, apply a moisturizing oil.
3. Pamper Your Hands
Of all your body parts, your hands suffer the most from excessive exposure to soap and water. If you wash them more often in the winter to avoid getting sick, the skin on your hands may become red, cracked, and painful.
“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,” said New York dermatologist Dr. Diane Berson, M.D. Apply cream or lotion after washing. At bedtime, cover moisturized hands with cotton gloves and sleep in soothing comfort.
4. Choose Gentle Clothing
Scratchy fabrics like wool can keep your itch cycle going. Know which clothes irritate your skin and avoid them. Wear soft, natural materials like cotton and silk. Detergent or fabric softener build up in your clothing and bedding can also contribute to discomfort. Use a laundry detergent that doesn’t contain dyes or perfumes, which can irritate your skin. Change from powder to liquid detergent because it tends to rinse out better and leave less residue.
5. Ensure Outdoor Protection
Cover your skin as much as possible with hats, scarves, and gloves when you’re outdoors. Winter wind also can have a drying effect on skin. All those extra clothes that protect you from frigid temperatures can do double duty and shield you from the wind too. Consider wearing a mask that warms the air you breathe.
“Don’t put away the sunscreen in the winter just because the days are short and the sun is low in the sky,” said Noreen Nicol, MS, RN, FNP, chief clinical officer at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center. Sun exposure any time of year increases your risk of skin cancer and dries out your skin, so using sunscreen is important in winter too. Also protect the sensitive skin on your lips with a lip moisturizer, preferably one containing sunscreen.
6. Drink Extra Water
When the weather isn’t hot and/or humid, you don’t feel as thirsty. But you still need to drink plenty of water to moisturize your skin from the inside out.
Cold weather can cause more serious conditions like dermatitis and eczema to occur or worsen. Dry, irritated skin is more likely to turn into an infection that’s red, warm, and swollen. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, 25 percent of the U.S. population will experience cold-induced uticaria, which can result in hives, at least once in their lifetime. Sudden temperature changes — going from a heated building out into the cold or the other way around — can cause raised, swollen, red, itchy welts. Consult your doctor if you suffer from severe itching, a skin infection, or hives.