Amanda Cooper, MD, Dermatology, Columbia St. Mary’s and Madison
Welcome to February in Wisconsin. Dry, flaky, itchy skin is as clear a sign of the winter season as devastating Packer playoff losses and sub-zero temperatures. Luckily, there are several simple changes you can make to your daily skin-care routine that will greatly reduce the severity of your dry skin.
The first one is probably the hardest – especially when the wind chill dips into single digits – and it’s one of the leading causes of persistently dry skin. I’m talking about hot showers. No, you don’t need to start bathing in ice water, but hot water quickly strips the natural oils from your skin. You should bathe no more than once a day, and limit your shower or bath to 10 minutes or less – and use warm water. Also, look for gentle, perfume-free soaps or cleansers. Olive-oil based cleansers are also great this time of year.
Regular application of a moisturizer is obviously important, but when you do it is key. The best time to apply a moisturizer is right after you bathe, while your skin is still well hydrated. This will help the moisturizer penetrate your skin more deeply and trap in more moisture.
Moisturizing lotions typically come in tubes or pumps, while the heavier moisturizing creams typically come in jars or tubs. If you find your lotion isn’t hydrating your skin, try increasing the hydration by changing to a cream. It is important to find a moisturizer that is perfume-free, and finding one with ingredients such as ceramides and dimethicone can help your moisturizer keep your skin hydrated longer.
Our hands are often the hardest hit area on our bodies when it comes to winter dryness. Just like the rest of your skin, it’s important for you to protect your hands from hot and prolonged water exposure. One of the biggest offenders is washing dishes. Make sure and get those protective gloves out when doing dishes and use them for any other wet work around the house, as well. And as you wash your hands more frequently in an attempt to avoid catching your co-worker’s cough, don’t forget to apply a heavy hand moisturizer several times throughout the day.
Just because it's winter, doesn’t mean you can hide away your sunscreen! Make sure that you have SPF 30 or higher on exposed skin, especially when doing outdoor activities such as cross country skiing or ice fishing. Did you know that the majority of dry, chapped, so-called windburn is actually a sunburn? Even though it is cold outside, you can still sustain damage from harmful ultraviolet rays, which can lead to premature aging and even skin cancer.
If you’ve made all the above changes and your skin is still dry and itchy, it might be a medical condition such as eczema or psoriasis. Eczema is caused by an impaired skin barrier that leads to irritation and presents as pink, dry, itchy patches. With psoriasis, the inflammation in the skin can cause red plaques with a thick white scale, commonly located on the elbows, knees and scalp. These plaques can be painful and itchy, as well. The good news is both conditions respond well to many over-the-counter and prescription options. After a thorough check-up, your dermatologist will be able make a diagnosis and determine the best course of action.
Dr. Amanda Cooper is a dermatologist at Columbia St. Mary’s West Allis
Medical Group and Madison Medical Affiliates - Germantown. For more
information, please call 262-255-2112.
This article appeared in the Thursday, February 11, issue of The Ozaukee News Graphic.