Hooray, winter is here! Get out your skis, snowshoes, and ice skates—it’s time for fun in the snow. As an outdoor enthusiast, you might ready your body, strengthening knees, legs, and arms for the activities ahead. But do you think about your skin? Winter can bring an uncomfortable dryness to your skin that may lead to flaking, cracking, fissuring, and even eczema (inflammation and itching). Here are some tips to protect your skin this winter season.
Moisturize. Cold weather and indoor heating dry the air. You’ll need to moisturize more. Creams will be more effective than lotions. Apply them just after a bath or shower; the damp skin will absorb more effectively and will not leave a greasy residue. A home humidifier can also be helpful.
Retain natural oils. Avoid harsh peels and astringents in the winter. Retinol and tretinoin creams may need to be applied less frequently. Skin naturally produces less oil over time, so you may find yourself moisturizing more than you used to.
Fissures. Cracking hands and feet? Apply cream or petroleum jelly to damp skin, then cover with socks and/or gloves overnight. Your skin will be noticeably softer and smoother in the morning. Add exfoliating creams to help these areas stay soft and pliable.
Check the water temperature. Hot water breaks down the lipid barrier of the skin, leading to excessive skin dryness. It’s best to avoid the super-hot bath or shower and keep the temperature in the middle of the dial, be quick, and moisturize when your skin is still damp. Avoid harsh soaps in favor of the milder moisturizing kind.
Sunscreen. Don’t forget sunscreen on snowy days! UV radiation is increased at higher elevations, not well blocked by cloud cover, and reflected by snow and ice. Avoid that goggle tan this year by wearing sunscreen every day. Choose a moisturizing, broad-spectrum (UVA, UVB) sunscreen, SPF 30+, and re-apply at least once mid-day for best results.
Water? It is a commonly held myth that drinking more water will hydrate your skin. Drinking water is good for your overall health; however, more water intake leads to more trips to the restroom, not more moisture in the skin.
Bloody noses. Dryness inside the nose can lead to more bloody noses. Apply a small amount of petroleum jelly inside the nose daily.
Chapped lips. Try not to lick your lips, as saliva will dry and irritate the lips quickly. Frequently apply a moisturizing lip balm with sunscreen.
Stay warm and dry. Don’t forget your hat! Most body heat is lost through the head. Use cotton layers under wool to avoid irritation. Keep gloves and socks dry; dampness added to cold increases risk for cold injury. Damage is usually unnoticed until re-warming, when the area burns, itches, or is painful. Avoid vigorous rubbing in favor of gentle massage to avoid additional tissue damage. If severe, consult a physician immediately.
Consult a specialist. See a dermatologist if these remedies are not helping, as prescription medications may be necessary.
Don’t allow winter skin issues to prevent you from enjoying this season. Take good care of your skin, get out, and have fun!
Shannon Setzer, MD is a dermatologist at Big Sky Dermatology and Skin Cancer Specialists in Bozeman.