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How to Soothe Dry Winter Skin

UW Health dermatologist Apple Bodemer says the first step in avoiding dry skin begins in the shower.Many of us experience dry skin along with the arrival of colder temps and snowy weather.


Dry skin is a very common problem during winter months. And, as we age, our skin becomes more prone to dryness. But there are simple solutions that can protect your skin all year long, and throughout your life.


So what causes dry skin, especially in the winter? As UW Health dermatologist and Integrative Health specialist Dr. Apple Bodemer explains it, when temperatures and humidity drop outside, and we turn up the thermostat indoors, the spaces between skin cells become more prominent. That makes it easier for irritants to get in, and for water to escape.


Dry Skin Tips for Showering and Bathing


The first step to avoiding dry skin begins in the shower. Many people make the mistake of using hot (or very hot) water to escape the cold, Bodemer says. But this causes blood vessels to dilate, and in turn draws fluids from deeper tissues that then evaporate from the skin's surface.


She recommends instead turning the faucet to lukewarm, and, even then, staying in for 5 to 10 minutes at most. It's also important to use a soapless cleanser, so you can get rid of dirt, but not the oils that are there to protect your skin. Look for the words "soapless" or "beauty bar," made by brands such as Dove, Oil of Olay, Cetaphil and others.


When you're done bathing, pat dry with a towel instead of scrubbing, and immediately apply moisturizer while your skin is still slightly damp.


What to Look for in a Moisturizer


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Moisturizers are meant to lock moisture into the skin, and there are two main components of moisturizers. The first are occlusives, which create a barrier to minimize evaporation and provide some protection. Humectants, on the other hand, work by attracting water to the surface of the skin, primarily from deeper tissues. Bodemer recommends looking for moisturizers with both, so while the humectant attracts moisture, the occlusive can keep it from evaporating.


Bodemer also suggests choosing creams or ointments over lotions. Lotions have higher water content, which means they evaporate faster and won’t help long-term. Creams and ointments create a better environment in which skin can heal. A good rule of thumb, Bodemer says, is to avoid lotions that come from a pump, and instead use products you can scoop out of a tub or squeeze from a tube.


Inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis, will often become worse in cold, dry weather. To treat severe dryness, you may need to visit your doctor.


Things to Try for Dry, Cracking Skin


Bodemer has a few tips that will help those with serious skin conditions as well as those with everyday dryness:

  • Wear gloves while cleaning or doing dishes to minimize how often you need to wash your hands
  • Avoid anti-bacterial cleansers when possible, because some may irritate skin
  • For extremely dry hands, gently wash with a mild cleanser and pat dry before bed. Then, apply a thick layer of moisturizer, or even Vaseline jelly, and cover with white cotton gloves overnight.
  • Humidifiers can also help anyone with dry, itchy skin because they increase the amount of moisture in the air, which then keeps the moisture in your skin from evaporating as quickly.
  • If you're suffering from cracked skin, Bodemer says to try super glue! The glue will seal up the skin and decrease the risk of infection, so your skin can heal. She does warn, however, that some people can react to super glue, so it's best to test it out in a small spot first.

Date Published: 12/10/2015

News tag(s):  dermatologyapple a bodemer

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