Dry skin. It’s a year-round problem in Colorado that, unfortunately, ratchets up even more in the dry winter months.
A combination of factors in Colorado such as wind, low humidity, and high altitude, can deplete skin of moisture, causing it to feel dry and itchy and also look dry and weathered. Additionally, with cold weather comes indoor heating, which causes dry skin in winter.
“Turning on the heat circulates more dry air, which can be a skin irritant,” explains Dr. Cory A. Dunnick, a dermatologist at UCHealth Dermatology Clinic – Anschutz Medical Campus and professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado Department of Dermatology.
Dry skin can itch, turn red, flake, crack, and even bleed. Fortunately, there are ways to combat dry skin. Dr. Dunnick says the two main strategies are less soap and more moisturizer. Soaps are drying and moisturizers are hydrating. Here, she shares how to combat dry skin and more ways to improve the way your skin looks and feels this winter.
Best dry skin care products
It’s not a bad idea to change your normal skincare routine in the winter. If you usually use a moisturizing lotion for your face and body, consider using a cream or ointment. “Lotions are high in water content and the easiest formulation to rub into the skin but are less moisturizing than thicker creams. Ointments are oil-based and are the most moisturizing,” says Dunnick. Look for products that contain:
- mineral oil
- shea butter
- hyaluronic acid
Dunnick also recommends using a mild cleanser, especially for older adults. When you’re young, a strong cleanser can help fight the acne that often accompanies puberty and the excess oil production that comes with it. However, as you age, you gradually produce less oil.
“Older individuals need to revert to milder skin care products and don’t need to use soap all over — only in the smelly areas — and can rinse with water in the shower,” says Dunnick.
And don’t skip the sunscreen. Just because it’s cold does not mean the sun is not strong.
Ingredients to avoid on your skin
In general, Dunnick says, the fewer the ingredients, the better. This advice goes for skin care products as well as laundry detergents and fabric softeners. For example, she recommends avoiding products with harsh preservatives, fragrances, or dyes.
If anti-aging products such as retinol and alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) are part of your everyday skin care routine, you may want to give them a rest or cut down on how often you use them if you experience excessive dryness, redness, and flakiness. You should also avoid products with alcohol, except hand sanitizer, and limit how often you use an exfoliating scrub or product.
Lifestyle modifications for dry skin
Cold weather and hot showers go together. There’s no need to eliminate that combo but try to shorten or limit your hot showers since hot water depletes the oil in your skin and also dries it out. Then, after your shower, generously apply moisturizer to your body and face immediately after drying off. This helps trap the moisture in your skin.
If you’re fortunate enough to have access to a hot tub, the same advice goes for that hot water exposure. But, first, rinse off after soaking to wash away the chemicals that keep the hot tub water clean but can dry and irritate your skin.
Another way to generate heat in cold weather is to light a fire. Unfortunately, the heat from a fire also tends to dry out the skin. Warm up with fleece and hot cocoa or tea instead. To combat the dry air caused by indoor heating, use a humidifier to add humidity to the air.
Other dry skin tips
Did we mention that you should use a moisturizer? In addition to regularly applying moisturizer to your body, be sure to do the same for your hands and lips, two areas that often get chapped and irritated in the winter. These days, with all the handwashing and alcohol-based sanitizers people are doing to protect themselves from COVID-19, dry hands are especially problematic.
To prevent or alleviate excess dryness in your hand, be sure to wash your hands with lukewarm water and a mild cleanser, when possible, and apply moisturizer frequently. As for your lips, Dunnick recommends wearing a lip balm with SPF when outdoors. And contrary to what you may have heard, drinking water does not help relieve dry skin.
“Increasing water intake does not improve skin hydration,” says Dunnick. Instead, moisturize and use less soap.
When to see a dermatologist
While a moisturizer can help treat most cases of dry skin, it can’t treat all dry skin. Your dry, itchy skin may be the result of a skin condition such as eczema or an underlying health condition such as kidney disease or hypothyroidism. Eczema is a common skin condition, affecting more than 31 million Americans. Symptoms include dry, itchy, inflamed, and cracked skin.
While moisturizer may relieve some eczema symptoms, eczema is a chronic skin condition that requires a treatment plan and possibly prescription medication. If home-care remedies fail to relieve dry skin after two weeks, make an appointment with a dermatologist.