If you are someone who suffers from a skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis, you likely dread the arrival of winter. Cold air outdoors and dry conditions indoors from heating systems cause skin to flake and become rough and irritated.
As soon as the season begins Dr. Erin M. Welch, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, is booked solid with patients looking for relief from chronic skin conditions. “I definitely see an upsurge of patients complaining of itchy, dry, chapped and cracked skin and of course skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis,” she said. “When the air gets cold it loses moisture and it seems to cause conditions to flair up.”
Eczema is an inherited skin condition that causes dry, rough and itchy patches on the skin. These patches can appear anywhere on the body, and can worsen in winter. Children are prone to a form of eczema called atopic dermatitis, but they usually grow out of it.
Psoriasis is a chronic immune system problem that manifests itself in the skin, causing it to become scaly, red and itchy. In some cases these conditions may require medicated ointments. If your skin does not improve by moisturizing and avoiding irritating products, you should see a dermatologist.
Dr. Welch said the best thing individuals with overly dry skin or skin conditions can do during the winter is keep their skin hydrated. “Switch from moisturizing lotion to heavier creams and lotions that lock moisture in,” she said, noting that people should look for products that contain hyaluronic acid, lactic acid and urea. “Carry extra hand cream with you to moisturize throughout the day and apply lip balm. It amazes me that some of my patients don’t moisturize at all. But even if you don’t moisturize in the summer, you should in the winter.”
Chapped lips are common and unpleasant and is seems that nearly everyone experiences them at some point during the winter. Dry air combined with cold temperatures sucks the moisture out of lips and causes them to crack. The key to avoiding painful lips is to keep them lubricated at all times. Use a lip balm containing sunscreen to prevent chapped, cracked lips and sun damage.
Cold sores are also quite common during the winter months. The sores, also known, as fever blisters, are a form of the herpes virus that lies dormant in those who are infected with it. Cold, dry winter weather conditions can cause the virus to flair up. The good news is that cold sores are easily treatable with over-the-counter medications. Products that contain docosanol are most effective because they help to reduce the duration and severity of the sores. Numbing products that contain ingredients like benzyl alcohol and phenol will help alleviate some of the pain and irritation.
As unpleasant as it may seem on a cold winter day, shower or bathe in cooler water to keep your skin from drying out further. “Hot showers can feel great, but they can be very drying,” Dr. Welch said.
Individuals with skin conditions or severely dry skin should be cautious about the types of products they use during the winter. Ingredients, such as alcohol, can further dehydrate the skin so it is best to avoid toners or find one that is alcohol-free. Individuals who use Retin-A products may want to decrease their use or stop using the products altogether during in the winter, because they can be irritating. Retin-A, or tretinoin, is a skin preparation similar to vitamin A and is used to treat acne-prone skin and wrinkles. Unfortunately, it can cause dryness and redness and even skin swelling.
Whether you have eczema, psoriasis or itchy, dry skin, don't let your condition get out of control. If the products you are using are not improving your skin, you should make an appointment with a dermatologist as soon as possible.