In honor of National Healthy Skin Month, we're ringing in the colder winter season with a topic nearly everyone can relate to — dry skin. The skin is the largest (and one of the most important) organs of the body, as it protects all the other organs that live inside. While dry skin may seem trivial compared to more life-threatening issues, it's important we still remember to protect the organ that protects our entire body! So with the winter months upon us, now's the perfect time for a refresher on all things related to dry skin.
What causes dry skin?
While there are other conditions that can cause persistently dry skin, the common culprits — especially in the winter — are cold air and low humidity, which strip moisture from the surface of your skin. Without proper precautions, this lack of water can lead to dry, chapped, cracked and peeling (not to mention painful) skin as the dead skin cells cling to your skin barrier — often causing itching and irritation.
How to Ward Off Dry Skin This Winter
With a few small lifestyle and skincare changes, you can help protect your skin from the harsh elements. In preparation for the colder months, try some of these dermatologist-recommended tips for preventing and combating dry, itchy skin:
- Keep your skin hydrated. One of the best things you can do for your skin is to keep it hydrated, which is why moisturizer is so important. Ointments and creams are typically more effective moisturizers than lotion — the thicker the better! Ideally, look for a moisturizer with alpha hydroxy acids (fruit acids) — such as lactic acid or glycolic acid — which help retain moisture in the skin longer. Other moisturizing ingredients to look for include hyaluronic acid, jojoba oil and shea butter.
- Consider when you moisturize. It's not just how you moisturize, but also when you moisturize that matters! Right after you get out of the shower, pat your skin dry and then immediately apply a thick moisturizer from head to toe. This helps trap water in your skin, hydrating it for longer. You can still reapply throughout the day as needed.
- Stay covered in cold temperatures. Make sure to keep your skin covered as best as possible in cold temperatures — don’t forget the gloves! When selecting winter clothing, be sure to consider the fabric. Opt for soft materials when possible. While wool is warm, the scratchy material can irritate already dry skin (however, you can layer it over softer fabrics for added warmth).
- Avoid damage from excessive heat. Just as the cold can hurt your skin, excess heat can actually do the same by drying it out. So as cozy as it may be to hop in a steaming hot shower or cozy up beside a warm fire, don't expose yourself to that much heat for too long. Ideally — especially if you already have dry skin — opt for warm water instead of hot and take shorter baths and showers (no more than 10 minutes once a day).
- Avoid harsh products. While harsh soaps may leave you feeling extra clean after the shower, they can actually strip your skin of essential lipids (fats) that are there to keep it hydrated. Opt for gentle, fragrance-free products — not only in the shower, but for your entire skincare routine. Gentle, hypoallergenic skincare products help reduce the risk of irritation or damage to your natural skin barrier. If your clothes seem to irritate your dry skin, you may also consider switching to an unscented laundry detergent.
- Consider using a humidifier. If you use central heating in your home, you might notice the air feeling particularly dry in the winter months. If you're noticing the dry air (or suffering from dry skin!) consider running a humidifier in your home. Keeping the humidity above 30% can do wonders for dry, itchy skin.
No one wants to be uncomfortable in their own skin. This winter, if you need help managing dry skin or other painful skin conditions, consider making an appointment with a dermatologist.
This article first appeared in the November 2022 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.