Winter skin: how to prevent the dry, cracked skin of winter
Updated: Aug 16
This is what can happen to skin that's left to air dry: dry, cracked surfaces.
As the temperature drops outside, and the heat comes on inside, winter skin starts to make its appearance. The dry, itchy skin that many of us experience in winter is often preventable, though, if you take the right steps.
First, protect your skin. Second, strengthen your skin barrier.
How do you protect your skin? There are a number of factors that can damage the skin barrier. Surprisingly, though, some of the most common damage is inflicted by your shower. Specifically, long, hot showers. These feel great when it's cold outside. They even feel great when your skin is itchy. But long, hot showers actually damage your skin barrier.
That's why, for my patients with sensitive skin, I recommend limiting showers to 10 minutes, and sticking with lukewarm water.
How do you strengthen your skin barrier? Use moisturizer. Specifically, use the right kind of moisturizer, and use it in the right way.
What is the right kind of moisturizer for winter skin? It's NOT a lotion.
Lotions usually aren't strong enough for winter skin. That's because lotions are formulated with a higher amount of water. That means they just don't lock moisture into the skin as well as thicker formulations.
Instead of lotions, I recommend moisturizing creams or ointments. These are thicker, may be greasy, and usually come in jars, tubs, or tubes.
How do you use moisturizer in the right way? It's important to apply moisturizer directly after a bath or shower. This one step is critical to preventing winter dry skin.
This is what I tell my patients: step out of the shower and pat dry partially. Then, while your skin is still damp, apply moisturizing cream or ointment. This locks moisture into the skin, and works to strengthen the skin barrier.
It's important to apply a moisturizing cream while your skin is still partially damp. Also remember that lotions usually aren't strong enough for winter skin. You'll need a cream or an ointment.
What happens when you step out of the shower and towel dry completely? Or when you let your skin air dry? When you allow water to evaporate from your skin, it takes moisture with it. This is a photo I took of a muddy river bank on a sunny day. This is what happens when water evaporates: it leaves behind dry, cracked surfaces.
When water evaporates from a muddy riverbank, it draws moisture with it.
For more details on protecting and strengthening the skin barrier, link here. For more information on products recommended for individuals with dry skin or eczema, this handout provides information on generalized dermatitis [all-over dermatitis] while this handout provides information on hand dermatitis.
Dr. Rajani Katta is the author of Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. To receive future updates on preventive dermatology and the role of diet, sign up here.