The dry air experienced during the winter months is an integral factor in creating dry skin problems. Heating systems to warm homes and offices, most commonly forced-air heat, wrings even more moisture out of the already dry air. This dry air can take moisture right out of the skin and causes the top layer, which is made up of dead skin cells, to flake.
What can a person do?
- Use a cool mist vaporizer or humidifier to replace the moisture in the air. Fewer static electricity shocks will be given off of light switches and clothes, especially sweaters, won’t crackle or stick to the body.
- Drink plenty of water. The body sweats in cooler weather just as in hot weather, just not as obviously. People don’t feel as thirsty so they don’t drink as much. The body is mostly water and what is lost through perspiration needs to be replenished on a constant basis. It is imperative that those who suffer from dry skin drink at least eight glasses of water daily. This helps keep the skin hydrated. Drinking caffeinated beverages does not count. They can only make already dry skin worse.
- Watch the hands closely for signs of infection. The hands are especially vulnerable since they are constantly in use, picking up different materials and handling items that sap the moisture out of the skin. The hands can become rough, and even the tips of the fingers may split open, develop hangnails or nails may break easily and frequently. Washing dishes in water hotter than 100 degrees F. can make hands extremely red, dry and raw. Use vinyl gloves when washing dishes to prevent further irritation. If the tips of the fingers become cracked and bleed, a person should consult their physician and watch for infection in these areas.
- Moisturize. One can not overdo moisturizing their hands during cold weather. One of the best treatments for dry hands is to apply moisturizers at bedtime and wear cotton gloves overnight (no polyester or man-made materials.) After bathing or showering, apply a moisturizer before toweling dry. This locks moisture into the skin. If the feet or legs are especially dry, try rubbing in a thin coating of petroleum. If done properly, the skin should not feel slippery when finished. Even when there’s dry skin on the face, moisturize. While the face is still damp, apply a light moisturizer, then wait about 10 to 15 minutes for the fact to dry completely before applying makeup. If dry, flaking skin is still a problem after using moisturizers, a trip to the family physician may be necessary. Remember to use sun screen on exposed areas even in the winter.
The key to keeping skin in good shape during the winter months is moisture—adding moisture whenever possible from the inside and out. Don’t be afraid to seek advice from a physician if dry, flaky, even itchy skin persists.
For more information on dry skin in winter weather, please call Veterans Memorial Hospital at (563) 568-3411.