Mind and Body

Fighting Dry, Itchy Winter Skin

Winter is in full swing across the country, with temperatures hovering below freezing. Many people experience dry, irritated, cracked and chapped skin due to the combination of cold air coupled with extreme temperatures from indoor heating and outdoor sports. This time of year can be especially challenging for patients with eczema (a common condition where the patient experiences skin dryness and recurring skin rashes.)

The best way to prevent dry, irritated and chapped, cracked skin is to keep it fully moisturized. The first and simplest step that I recommend to my patients is using a humidifier indoors. Humidifiers add moisture to the air which can help you feel better and avoid getting sick. The additional moisture can eliminate or minimize a dry nose, prevent dry, itchy or cracked skin along with helping many avoid allergy and asthma problems. Most patients notice a difference in the skin severity immediately after the humidifier is in place.

The second step to reducing the symptoms of winter skin is to use a moisturizer with a higher oil content. These moisturizers form a layer of protection that literally locks in moisture. Ointments are also another good choice. An ointment is basically a water and oil emulsion that can contain as much as 70 to 80 percent oil. You can also use any products on the market for "extra" dry skin. While these do not contain as much oil as ointment, they do have higher oil content than traditional moisturizers, and this will definitely help protect and condition skin while reducing itchiness and redness associated with winter skin.

The greatest way to moisturize skin in winter months is to apply a moisturizer or ointment immediately after showering. During this time, there is the added benefit of locking in the moisture. Be sure to use warm (not hot) water for your showers. A hot, steamy shower or bath, while it can feel great on a cold day, can actually make your skin feel worse. Opt for warm showers and for best results, pat skin dry and immediately apply a highly moisturizing lotion or ointment. This will definitely help improve your skin and prevent it from drying out.

This blog wouldn't be complete until we stress the importance of using sunscreen a• even in winter. Sunscreens are not just for the beach and sun bathing. Use a sunscreen everyday without exception. I suggest using a broad spectrum sun block with at least an SPF of 15, but preferably a SPF of 30.

Other helpful tips include dressing in layers to prevent skin from becoming too cold or too overheated (indoors). Sweaty, moist skin when combined with extreme and sometimes harsh temperatures can cause further irritation.

In addition, drink plenty of water. Not only does this help your skin replenish moisture, it helps your body in countless ways.

This is the advice I have given my patients for years and I hope that it helps reduce your dry and itchy skin so that the winter months can be more enjoyable.

Dr. Neil Sadick is one of the most renowned dermatologists and researchers whose multiple discoveries have strongly influenced and transformed the future of dermatology. He is a Professor of Dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College and President of the Cosmetic Surgery Foundation. Dr. Sadick is author, or co-author, of more than 500 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals and has contributed more than 75 chapters of medical books. Read more at