Cold, dry winter weather is upon us in New England, and all the time spent outside in these frosty conditions can dry out your skin. It’s no secret that having itchy, rough skin that feels tight or cracks and bleeds can be extremely uncomfortable, if not downright painful. However, dry skin is easily treated and prevented once you know the signs, symptoms, and potential triggers.
Dry skin is incredibly common and can appear anywhere on your body. Some of the symptoms of dry skin include the skin feeling tight or rough; flaking, scaling, or peeling; lines or cracks; a reddish color of the skin; or bleeding.
Dry skin has many causes, from cold or dry weather to underlying skin issues and mineral deficiencies. Typically, dry skin occurs when your skin cells don’t retain enough moisture. This happens when the top layer of our skin, called the epidermis, is damaged or dysfunctional, making it difficult for the deeper layers of our skin to stay moisturized and soft.
Long, hot showers may be tempting, especially when it’s cold outside. However, taking hot showers for longer than 10 minutes may cause your skin to dry out. Try limiting the time you spend under steaming hot water and keep the water warm for the duration of your shower. Right after showering, applying a gentle cream or lotion can help lock in moisture.
Excessive scrubbing may feel refreshing and remove surface-level flakes from your skin, but it may also damage your skin, causing further dryness. If you are suffering from dry skin, consider using a gentle exfoliant or simply avoid scrubbing completely until the area has healed.
Harsh soaps, detergents, cleaning liquids, or shampoos are formulated to remove excess oil and may contain irritating fragrances. To avoid stripping your skin of healthy oils, consider wearing gloves while cleaning, using fragrance-free detergents, or switching to hand and body soaps that have moisturizing ingredients like coconut oil, glycerin, or shea butter.
Specific medical treatments can cause dry, rough skin due to individual immune reactions or medication side effects. Things like antibiotics, certain cancer treatments, and acne medications may impact your skin’s moisture levels.
Aging directly affects your skin. As you get older, the layers of your skin tend to thin and lose their firmness. This thinning makes it harder for your skin cells to retain water.
If the cause of your dry skin isn’t due to an underlying medical condition such as eczema or psoriasis, your provider might recommend precautionary steps to avoid the discomfort associated with dry skin.
Moisturizing right after cleansing the skin helps protect the skin barrier and seals in moisture. Moisturizers that contain coconut oil, jojoba oil, shea butter, glycerin, or lanolin are especially effective in treating dry skin. When using new skincare products, make sure to do a patch test to ensure your skin doesn’t react to the product to avoid further discomfort.
If you have fissures (cracks) or thickened dry skin, use a lotion that contains the ingredient urea. Urea is an excellent ingredient that helps reduce the loss of moisture and helps the excess dry skin shed appropriately. Consider trying Eucerin® Professional Repair.
To prevent dry hands, try washing your hands with lukewarm water and a gentle skin cleanser such as CeraVe®, Dove®, or Aveeno®. Immediately after washing your hands, apply a fragrance-free moisturizer. Some good non-greasy moisturizer creams for daytime include CeraVe® Moisturizing Cream, Cetaphil® Moisturizing Cream, or Eucerin® Eczema Relief Cream. Try keeping a bottle of lotion in places where you frequently wash your hands.
Drink enough water
Hydration has many benefits, including helping prevent dry skin. The dehydration of body tissue can actually lead to dry skin, so drinking plenty of water ensures that your skin is hydrated from within.
Limit exposure to dry and cold air
During the winter months, it’s important to keep your face and hands protected from the cold. Gloves, hats, and scarves can prevent irritation and dryness due to harsh winter temperatures. Look for soft fabrics that won’t irritate your skin or make you itchy.
Choose gentle skincare products and detergents
If your skin tends to dry out, switch to fragrance-free, alcohol-free soaps or cleansers. Also, try using moisturizing products that are formulated for dry or sensitive skin. If you think one of your soaps, lotions, or detergents is causing your dry skin, try switching out one at a time to determine the culprit. For those with sensitive skin or skin contact allergies, Vanicream® is a product line free of fragrance, formaldehyde, dyes, and parabens. They make cleansers and moisturizers as well as sunscreen, shampoo, conditioner, and shaving cream.
Although dry skin is a common condition that can often be treated with small changes to your daily routine, it also can indicate an underlying condition. Contact your Atrius Health provider if symptoms become severe or don’t go away. Your provider can work with you to find the right treatment plan.