Healthcare Question of the Month

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Question: Every winter my skin gets uncomfortably dry and itchy. What can I do to prevent this from happening?

Answer: Welcome to winter in Wisconsin.

Dry, flaky, itchy skin is as clear a sign of the winter season as ice fishing and the Polar Bear Plunge. Luckily, there are several simple changes you can make to your daily skin-care routine that will greatly reduce the severity of dry skin. 

The first one is probably the hardest – especially when the wind chill dips into single digits – but it’s one of the leading causes of persistent dry skin. We’re talking about hot showers. We're not saying you need to start bathing in ice water, but hot water strips oil from the skin much faster than warm water. Try to limit your shower or bath to ten minutes or less and use warm water. Also, look for soaps and body washes with moisturizers – and scent-free is always a good idea. 

Regular application of lotion is obviously important, but when you do it is key. “The best time to apply lotion is fresh out of the shower, after you’ve patted yourself dry but while your skin is still slightly damp,” says Dr. Debra Scarlett, MD, Dermatologist. “This will help the lotion more fully absorb. 

Additionally, Dr. Scarlett says to look for lotions that include ceramides, dimethicone, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, lanolin, mineral oil, or petroleum jelly – these all help the skin absorb and hold onto moisture more effectively. Also, look for a lotion that has at least a SPF 30. Even in the winter it’s important to protect your skin from UV rays. 

There are also some environmental and lifestyle factors that can help keep your skin healthy throughout the winter. A humidifier will be your best friend during the driest winter months. Get one for your bedroom and possibly one for your living room, too. Drinking plenty of water will also help keep your skin hydrated as will eating foods high in essential omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, halibut, scallops, soybeans, walnuts and flax seeds. Wool and some synthetic fibers can be irritating to the skin, so you might want to stick with cotton.

If you’ve made all the above changes and your skin is still dry and itchy, Dr. Scarlett says you could be suffering from a medical condition such as atopic dermatitis (eczema) or psoriasis. There are many over-the-counter and prescription treatments available for both ailments, but first you need to get checked out by your dermatologist.



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