5 Tips to Fight Winter Itch
Cold, dry air can lead to dry, itchy skin
One of the joys of living in Louisiana is that our skin gets to luxuriate in high humidity all summer long.
Unfortunately, when the winter months hit, all that lovely moisture leaves the air, and your skin can pay the price. Cold, dry air combined with indoor heating leads to skin that is exceptionally dry and itchy. This is often referred to as the “winter itch” and tends to worsen as you get older. Fortunately, you can make a few simple changes to help keep your skin healthy and moisturized year-round.
1. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!
Moisturizers are the first line of defense against winter itch. It seems so basic, but applying moisturizer twice daily is the best way to replenish your skin’s moisture. Evidence shows that externally applied creams are more effective at hydrating the skin than drinking lots of water. The thicker and greasier the product, the better (think creams and ointments rather than lotions). One of the best times to apply moisturizers is within three minutes of getting out of the bath or shower when your skin is still damp.
2. Change up your bathing routine.
While soaking in a hot tub may sound amazing, when it’s cold outside, hot water can actually strip your skin of its natural oils. Instead, stick with warm water and try to shower or bathe less frequently. It may seem counterintuitive, but too much water exposure can dry the skin out, so keep it brief and limit bathing to 10 minutes or less.
3. Ditch the fragrances.
Dry skin is more sensitive and easily irritated than healthy skin, so it’s best to avoid lots of fragrances in your soaps and laundry detergents. These fragrances can get into the little cracks of your skin and make itching worse. Look for products that are formulated for sensitive skin.
4. Try to avoid scratching.
Although it can be hard to resist, it’s best to avoid scratching itchy skin. It’s a well-known fact that the more you scratch, the more you itch. Scratching can actually cause histamine to be released in the skin, which can lead to inflammation. Research has shown that inflammation can increase the number of nerve endings in the skin. More nerve endings mean that itching can be more severe. So rather than grabbing your back scratcher, try applying something cold to the area or use an over-thecounter ointment containing hydrocortisone.
5. Don’t forget sunscreen.
The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can be potent, even in winter. Although the sun doesn’t feel as hot, up to 80% of UV rays reach the earth’s surface on cloudy days, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation. Sun damage is cumulative over your lifetime, so it’s important to remember your sunscreen during the winter months. Kill two birds with one stone and get a good daily moisturizer with sunscreen SPF 30+ already in it.
If your skin feels dry and itchy despite following these steps, it’s a good idea to see your dermatologist or health-care provider. You may have an underlying medical condition like psoriasis or eczema, where prescription treatments may be more effective.
Elizabeth Clemons, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist with Ark- La-Tex Dermatology, part of the Willis-Knighton Physician Network. The practice has offices in Shreveport and Bossier City and treats patients of all ages.