How to avoid dry skin during the winter?

Avoiding Dry Skin During Winter
A fellow caregiver asked...

We're only one month into winter and Dad's already having a hard time adjusting to the cold, dry weather. His lips are chapped, his skin feels overly dry and he seems to be itchier than normal. What's the easiest way to take care of his (and my!) skin during the winter months?

Expert Answer

Jessica J. Krant, MD, MPH, is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatology, including Mohs micrographic skin cancer surgery. In addition to her work in private practice, Krant is assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

Sounds like you and your dad are both suffering from the classic ravages of the dryness of the cold winter air combined with the usually also extra dry air from indoor heating during this time of year. The dryness can sneak up on you both faster than expected, and sometimes the things you might do instinctively to feel less dry actually can make it worse. Here are some good tips for your dad and for you to ward off increasing dryness and itching in the next few months:

1) Take SHORTER showers that are a few degrees cooler than you normally want to take. Aiming for 5 minutes in lukewarm water, rather than 10 or 50 (or 30) in stingingly hot water, can reduce the dryness paradoxically created when the water itself strips natural oils from your skin and leaves you drier than when you started.

2) Use a moisturizing cleanser such as Dove(R) for Sensitive Skin, rather than harsher soaps, and generally only wash a few main areas daily, unless you are specifically dirty otherwise: face, underarms, groin, and feet. Arms, legs, and trunk need soap only every other day or so, and decreasing the amount of soap will decrease these areas that tend to get itchiest fastest in winter.

3) Use a thick, bland moisturizing cream (not lotion) immediately after patting dry and before the skin dries after the bathing. Aveeno(R) Skin Relief Cream is one option since it contains anti-itch ingredients, though there are many good ones. Do this every single day or even twice daily. Don't wait until there is an itchy rash.

4) Lip licking in winter to remoisten dry lips is the biggest cause of chapped lips, and it sneaks up mysteriously because we don't realize we are doing it. Another cause is night time mouth breathing in dry heated air. To heal and protect lips, keep a layer of bland Chapstick(R) or plain Vaseline(R) petroleum jelly on the lips at all times, and work on not licking it off. This creates a barrier between sensitive lip skin and dry air and saliva, and will allow them to heal.

Good luck to both you and dad this winter. Dr. Krant