February 2, 2021
UPMC Doctor: Tips to Prevent Cold Weather Skin Issues
Our skin is one of our hardest working organs. It not only protects all the other organs in our bodies, and can repair itself, but it also regulates body temperature and detects and fights off infection. Healthy skin is an essential part of your overall health and wellness, yet most of us take our skin for granted, especially in the winter.
Winter’s Effect on Skin
Frequent hand washing and sanitizer use may already be taking a toll on your hands as the pandemic continues, but as temperatures and humidity levels continue to drop, other body parts can also get itchy, cracked, and irritated.
The harsh weather can strip the skin’s natural protective barrier, creating gaps in the outer most layer, allowing water to escape promoting dehydration and irritants to get in. The dry environment may be responsible for that uncontrollable itch, as the inflammatory response kicks in and releases histamines. It can exacerbate inflammatory skin diseases such as rosacea, eczema, ichthyosis, and psoriasis, which suffer an impaired barrier function.
Tips to Avoid a Painful Season
If you are not prepared, the changes to your skin can make for a long winter. Knowing how your skin typically reacts to cold weather can help you create a routine ahead of time and keep your skin from reacting negatively to fall and winter.
- Know Your Skin: As winter approaches, try to remember how your skin changed during past winters. Maybe your skin stayed the same as it did in the summer. This could be because of the routine you have in place. If your skin changed and became dryer than usual, this may mean you need to better prepare your skin for winter.
- If you know your skin is prone to drying out from cold weather, a way to prepare your skin before and during the winter is to stick to short and warm showers. Long, hot showers can feel great after a cold day, but can strip your skin of important oils, leaving it dry.
- It’s All About Moisture: Find a good moisturizer and use it before the cold weather hits and throughout the cold weather season. A moisturizer does exactly what its name implies: moisturizes. Moisturizing your skin in preparation for the cold weather and during the winter can help your skin from becoming dried out. An oil-free moisturizer that contains glycerin is best to help keep skin hydrated.
- Some Conditions Require Special Treatment: If you have eczema or psoriasis, you will have to do more than simply slather on extra lotion and drink more water.
- In the case of eczema, your body overreacts to an external trigger, such as dust mites or perfumes in cosmetics and soaps. Eczema develops as itchy, red skin, often in areas where skin touches skin, such as in the bends of the arms or knees. If you have eczema, it's important to use fragrance-free, hypoallergenic soap and moisturizers, as fragrances can cause allergies and further trigger itchiness and inflammation. One over-the-counter cream that may help provide relief from symptoms. You should also use scent-free hypoallergenic laundry detergent for the same reason. Certain fabrics, such as those made with wool, may be irritating to delicate skin as well.
- In the case of psoriasis, a hyperactive immune response causes new skin cells to proliferate more quickly than old ones can be shed. The result is that cells pile up on top of each other, causing red patches with silvery scales. Psoriasis almost always requires prescription treatment because of the underlying autoimmune disease, but the best option varies depending on how much of the skin is impacted. Lack of sun exposure during winter months can also have an effect on psoriasis so your provider may consider phototherapy, a treatment that essentially involves using a light box to expose skin to controlled amounts of UV light in order to dampen inflammation.
Preparation Can Go a Long Way
Dry skin can make for an uncomfortable winter which is why preparation is key as we continue through the cold winter months. If you’re having trouble managing your skin care, talk to a dermatologist. Your dermatologist can help you develop a routine and care plan to meet your skin’s unique needs. If you’re experiencing severely dry or chapped skin, or if you’ve recently developed a rash that’s not improving, talk to your doctor as these could be signs of a dermatologic condition or symptoms of more serious illness or allergic reaction.