Winter weather brings twinkling lights, cozy nights and, for many of us, dry, itchy skin. If you’ve let the autumn leaves fall without winterizing your skin care routine, it’s not too late. With seven easy tips from dermatologist Susan Touma, MD, your skin will be summer ready in no time.
1. As the weather changes, so should your moisturizer.
Moisturizers that work just fine in the spring and summer may not have what it takes to protect your skin in the winter, said Dr. Touma, a board-certified dermatologist with Huntington Dermatology Inc. Look for oil-based moisturizers, such as those containing olive oil or jojoba oil, and use Vaseline or Aquaphor ointment on especially dry areas like the hands.
“My No. 1 tip for the winter is to keep your skin covered with a good, oil-based moisturizer,” Dr. Touma said. “The easiest way to cure dry skin is to prevent it from happening in the first place.”
Other soothing ingredients include shea butter, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, lactic acid and lanolin. Too busy holiday shopping to read ingredient labels? Look for moisturizers labeled “ointment” or “cream,” rather than “lotion,” Dr. Touma said, which tend to be more moisturizing.
2. Wear protection.
Gloves are your winter skin’s best friend.
“The hands are often the first place you’ll see dry skin in the winter,” Dr. Touma said. “Wear gloves when you go outside, when you use household cleaners and when you do things that get your hands wet, like wash dishes. One of my favorite fixes for dry winter skin is to sleep with Vaseline on your hands, and a pair of thin cotton gloves from the drugstore will keep the Vaseline on your hands and off of your sheets.”
3. Winterize your hand washing.
When it comes to hand washing in the winter months, more isn’t necessarily better.
“If you’re a frequent hand washer — which is something we all should be during cold and flu season — there are some things you can do to make your hand washing less damaging to the skin,” said Dr. Touma. “First, focus on the areas of your skin that are actually dirty. If the backs of your hands aren’t dirty, don’t scrub them the way you scrub the rest of your hands.”
Second, she said, avoid hand sanitizer, which makes dry skin worse and isn’t as effective as soap and water. While you’re at it, skip the long, hot showers. Showers should be lukewarm and five to 10 minutes long. If your skin turns red, it’s probably too hot.
“Long, hot showers strip your skin of its natural oils and exacerbate irritated skin,” Dr. Touma said. “So does rough towel-drying afterward. After a shower or bath, pat yourself dry and then pat a few drops of baby oil or after-bath oil onto your skin. Just be careful not to spill the oil on the wet floor.”
4. Step away from the heat source.
When patients come in with rashes on their lower legs, Dr. Touma said, there’s usually one culprit to blame: space heaters.
“Dry, hot air is like a vacuum,” she said. “It sucks the moisture right out of your skin. If you spend a lot of time directly in front of a space heater, fireplace or other heat source, you’re more than likely going to experience dry skin. Relocate the heat source — or relocate yourself — so that the heat isn’t as direct.”
Even better, she said, opt for a cooler temperature inside and layer up. Drastic changes in temperature — from the frigid outdoors to a toasty office, for example — can cause irritation.
“Instead of cranking up the heat in your car, office or home, add or remove layers to keep your body heat in a comfortable range,” Dr. Touma said. “Layers also keep you from sweating and overheating — another thing that can cause itchy, dry skin in the winter.”
If you can’t escape the heat source, you can balance out the dryness in the air by using a humidifier. If you notice a static shock when you touch something, it’s a good indicator that your air is too dry.
5. Go fragrance free.
If your skin is especially susceptible to winter dryness and rashes, take a look at the products you’re using on a daily basis. Laundry detergents, perfumes and even fragranced soaps can all contribute to skin irritation. Avoid facial cleansers that contain alcohol, alpha-hydroxy acids or benzoyl peroxide, and go for a fragrance-free alternative instead.
“I recommend using gentle, unscented cleansers year round,” Dr. Touma said. “But if you’ve been using a harsh or fragranced cleanser during the warmer months, it’s definitely time to make a switch. For winter-friendly facial cleansers, my favorite brands are Cetaphil, CeraVe and Vanicream.”
6. Don’t forget sunscreen.
The summer heat has faded, but your skin cancer risk hasn’t.
“Some people equate cold weather with safety from the sun, but UV light from the sun is damaging year round,” Dr. Touma said. “Don’t use cold weather as an excuse not to wear sunscreen. I recommend a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher — and that’s for everyone, every day. If you’re snow skiing or doing other outdoor activities, you should be reapplying your sunscreen every two hours.”
To protect and soothe chapped lips, keep your lips moisturized with a quality lip balm that contains SPF.
7. Pay attention to your skin.
If you’re concerned about any changes in your skin this winter, you may need to see a dermatologist. Dry skin is sometimes a symptom of a skin condition that needs treatment, like psoriasis or eczema. If you have concerns or questions about your skin, call Huntington Dermatology Inc. at 304.523.5100 to schedule an appointment.