During the winter months as the outdoor air gets colder, the humidity drops. In addition, interior air heated by the furnace removes more moisture. This low humidity plus cold exterior winds help to deplete the skin of water and some natural lipids. This results in a rough, dull and sometimes flakey appearance of dry skin. Fine cracks resembling a dry lake bed may form. This condition is commonly referred to as ‘winter itch.’
Dry skin very commonly produces itching which can be mild to severe and interfere with many daily activities. Itching usually incites rubbing or scratching which in turn can produce areas of thickened skin. Dry skin and scratching may also result in a dermatitis that inflames the skin (becomes red).
Dry skin is sick skin. If you have dry skin or an associated dermatitis, we encourage you to see a dermatologist or family physician for treatment.
Preventing Winter Itch
To help prevent dry skin and winter itch, steer clear of using hot water in the shower or tub. Hot water robs the skin of moisture. Hot water and soaps can strip the lipids (natural oils) from the skin and worsen skin dryness. Pay attention to proper bathing techniques and liberally use moisturizers. Use only lukewarm water and limit time in the shower or tub to ten minutes or less and shower only once a day. Wash only underarms, groin and feet with a mild cleanser and run water over remaining skin. After bathing or showering, quickly pat the skin partially dry with a towel. Do not rub. Within three minutes of getting out of the tub or shower, apply a moisturizer. We recommend Vanicream™ Skin Cream and Vaniply™ Ointment for winter itch. Reapply moisturizer during the day as needed to areas prone to dryness, such as hands, arms and legs. Using a humidifier in the bedroom may increase the air moisture level by as much as 15%.
Dry skin is a long-term problem that reoccurs often, especially in winter. Start the winter skin care routine by adding moisture as stated above as soon as you notice your skin getting dry. Always avoid the use of harsh soaps, and instead use a mild cleansing bar that is free of chemical irritants. Use moisturizers frequently.