Checkup: Winter Skin
Changes in the look and feel of your skin during the cold winter months are not abnormal, but you can counteract unpleasant irritation.
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What are the signs?
The telltale symptoms of dry skin are easy to spot: Skin generally feels drier and tighter. Other signs may include roughness, itching, severe redness, flaking, and scaling. Sometimes pores become less visible, or the skin may look dull. In severe cases, the skin may crack and bleed, especially on the hands and fingertips.
Why does it happen?
Sun exposure or cold, dry air can cause the skin to become dehydrated. Dry skin is more common in the winter because the air contains less humidity. It can also be genetic or hereditary or a natural effect of aging.
What are your options?
Over-the-counter lotions, such as Eucerin and Curél, can relieve dryness and flaking. Or try a body cream that contains oil to help seal in moisture. Look for fragrance-free products with alpha-hydroxy acids, which gently exfoliate to allow more water and moisture into the skin. Avoid antibacterial and deodorant soaps, which can be harsh and drying. Instead, use a gentle cleanser, such as Dove or Aveeno, or a mild shower gel with added moisturizers.
Don’t take scalding baths, shower, or soak in the tub for more than 10 minutes. Doing so breaks down your skin’s natural protective oils, which keep it soft and smooth. Instead, use a humidifier during the winter. Central heating and space heaters can dry out the air in your home. Choose natural, breathable fabrics, such as cotton and silk, for your bedding and the innermost layer of clothing. Drink plenty of water and other liquids to keep skin hydrated from the inside out. Omega-3s (essential fatty acids found in salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, soybeans, and broccoli) can also help keep skin supple.
When should you worry?
See a dermatologist if dryness and itching keep you awake at night, if OTC lotions aren’t working, if you have open sores or large areas of scaling or peeling skin, or if you develop an infection from scratching. You could have a more serious condition such as eczema, psoriasis, or another skin disorder.
Did you know?
Although everyone’s skin changes with age, a man’s skin tends to stay moist longer. That’s because a woman’s skin becomes much drier after menopause. The best time to apply lotion is immediately after a shower or bath when the skin is still damp. Since dry skin is extra-sensitive, it’s important to protect it from the sun, especially if it’s snowing (snow can reflect as much as 80 percent of the sun’s rays). So apply SPF 15 or higher every day to your face, neck, and ears.