April 17, 2015
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Proper skin care for wintertime, Jonathan Schreiber, MD, PhD

As the seasons change, it is important to modify your daily routine in order to maintain healthy skin.  With winter comes drier weather and lower humidity.  The decreased moisture in the air combined with heating systems that further dry the air, can leach moisture from the skin, resulting in dry skin or xerosis.  Dry skin can become itchy and uncomfortable.  This may lead to scratching, and ultimately infection.  While this is especially problematic for people with inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, everyone can benefit from good skin care.

Your first line of defense against dry skin is to minimize the use of harsh soaps and cleansers that can strip the natural protective oils from your skin.  Use mild, fragrance free soaps and cleansers, as fragrances can be irritants, especially to people prone to allergies.  Those sensitive to fragrances should also remember to use fragrance free fabric softeners and laundry detergents.  Remember that products labeled as “natural,” are not necessarily mild and less irritating.  After all, poison ivy is a natural product.

Instead of long, hot showers, decrease your shower time, and use warm water.  If you tend to have itchy skin in the winter, the long hot shower will feel good while you are showering, but will ultimately exacerbate the condition.  Some people find soaking in a bathtub helpful, especially if they add moisturizing bath oils, or oatmeal type products.

After showering and toweling off, apply a dimethicone-based moisturizer.  You don’t need anything fancy or expensive, and there are many good products on the market.  As with soaps and cleansers, look for fragrance free products.  Products with ceramides are especially good, as ceramides are a component of the skin, which become depleted from our skin during the winter.

People with young children, as well as those who work in the food and health care industries need to wash their hands frequently.  During the winter, hand washing is important for everyone, as it can help minimize the spread of viruses, which cause influenza, upper respiratory infections and gastrointestinal disease.  Unfortunately, frequent hand washing can lead to excessively dry hands.  To combat this, make sure the soaps you have at home are mild and fragrance free.  People who are especially sensitive may want to carry small bottles of mild cleanser to use when they are out and about, as the soaps provided in many workplaces and places of commerce are harsh.  After washing your hands, apply moisturizer.  It would be ideal to apply the moisturizer every time your wash your hands, but that is not always practical.  Applying the moisturizer a couple of times a day will go a long way toward keeping your skin healthy.

Finally, consider adding some moisture back to the air with humidifiers.  Increasing the humidity a little will decrease the tendency for moisture to be leached from the skin.  Many people find running a humidifier in the bedroom overnight to be particularly helpful.