Reasons for Dry, Itchy Skin in Fall and Winter
As the leaves change in fall and winter, you may notice changes to your skin as well. You can easily develop rough, dry, and itchy skin during the colder months, especially if you live in an area where youâ€™re exposed to cold, dry air and harsh winds.
8 Reasons for Seasonal Dry Skin
First, understand why you may have dry skin in winter, and then take steps to prevent it from becoming a seasonal problem.
- Cold, dry air. Cold air has less moisture than warm or hot air. â€œCold air can be intensely drying,â€ Dr. Banks says. To keep winter air from drying out your skin, apply a moisturizer daily. Moisturizers work by locking water into your skin's top layer, so apply after bathing, while skin is still damp. During winter, a heavier lotion or cream can help your skin retain moisture longer, especially for rough or extra dry areas.
- Harsh winds. Strong winter winds can strip your skin of its natural lipids, which are the most important part of the skin barrier and keep skin from drying out. Cover up to protect against the wind by wearing a hat and a scarf, and apply a moisturizer with sunscreen before heading outdoors. Donâ€™t forget your sunglasses, Banks says, which help protect the delicate skin around your eyes.
- Home, hot home. The heat in your house, especially if itâ€™s a forced- air system, can be drying as well. To overcome this problem, use a humidifier to add moisture back into the air. If you donâ€™t want to install a whole-house humidifier, at least consider a unit for your bedroom, and sleep with the door closed so the moist air doesnâ€™t escape.
- A toasty fire. It may be awfully inviting to sit by a fireplace on a cold winterâ€™s day, but â€œthe heat from the toasty fire also can toast your skin,â€ Banks says. â€œDead skin builds up quicker in dry heat.â€ To help prevent dry skin in winter, donâ€™t light a fire â€” or at least stay farther away from its glow, and limit your time sitting by the fire.
- Hot showers and baths. â€œA hot shower can feel great when youâ€™ve been out in the cold, dry air all day,â€ Banks says, â€œbut it is actually very bad for your skin.â€ To prevent your skin from becoming dry, use lukewarm rather than hot water. When you shower, donâ€™t make it a long one â€” aim for a maximum of 10 minutes. If you take a bath, adding a few drops of lavender or almond oil or colloidal (finely ground) oatmeal to the water can help soothe your skin. Your bathing products can make a difference, too. Donâ€™t cleanse with products that can dry the skin, such as highly alkaline and detergent soaps. Then, â€œuse your moisturizer within a minute or so of getting out of a shower or bath, as damp skin traps the water and locks in moisture,â€ Banks adds.
- Hot drinks. On a cold winterâ€™s day, who doesnâ€™t feel like warming up with a cup of hot coffee, hot chocolate, or even a hot toddy? However, coffee and chocolate contain caffeine, and â€œcaffeine can dry your skin from the inside,â€ Banks says. And if youâ€™re drinking a hot toddy, be aware that alcohol is a diuretic and has a dehydrating effect on your body, too. Instead, aim to add moisture to your skin from the inside as well as the outside. â€œItâ€™s important to drink lots of water and stay hydrated,â€ Banks says. â€œFor each cup of caffeine or glass of wine you drink, make sure you drink at least one glass of water.â€ Even better, replace your coffee or hot chocolate with a mug of chamomile or another herbal tea, which doesnâ€™t contain caffeine.
- Winter clothing. That wool sweater grandma knitted for you may be cozy, but it can cause irritation and leave you with itchy skin. Choose clothing made of soft fabrics like cotton or silk instead. If you need to wear a wool sweater for warmth, layer it over a shirt made of cotton or silk so that it doesnâ€™t rub against your skin. If you have sensitive skin, use mild, unscented, hypoallergenic laundry detergents and avoid fabric softener when washing your clothes and linens.
- The sun. Most people know the sun can damage skin in the summer when itâ€™s the strongest, but winter sun can be just as damaging, Banks says. â€œEven if you canâ€™t feel the heat of the sun, the ultraviolet (UV) rays are still present, and therefore youâ€™re still at risk for sun damage.â€ Always apply sunscreen if youâ€™re going outside in the daytime, even when the temperatures are near or below freezing. Use sunscreen on any exposed areas, especially your lips, with SPF 30 or above. â€œEven if itâ€™s cold and windy, you still sweat, so remember to reapply sunscreen,â€ Banks says.
The winter winds and cold temperatures can do a number on your skin. But you can prevent your skin from getting dry, itchy, and damaged if you moisturize regularly, wear protective clothing and sunscreen, and take other smart precautions.
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