By Christina Burr, PA-C, Dermatology
Winter can be hard on our skin. If you’re like many people, winter can leave you with dry, cracked and often painful hands. So if you’re struggling with dryness and maybe even an itchy uncomfortable rash what can you do?
Let’s explore common causes of winter dry skin as well as some simple over the counter tips to help protect your hands. If your dry skin doesn’t respond to over the counter remedies then you will want to seek the help of your primary care doctor or dermatology provider to discuss prescription treatment options available.
Causes of Dry Skin:
- Low humidity environments such as deserts and cool, windy environments such as winter in the Midwest. Excessive air conditioning or excessive heat can also be drying.
- Decreased skin barrier functioning. What does that mean? As we age our skin begins to lose its ability to hold in moisture. Most adults over the age of 60 notice their skin is dryer than it used to be.
- Some medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, chronic kidney disease, ichthysosis, diabetes and malnutrition can contribute to dry skin. Postmenopausal women also often note increased dry skin.
- Excessive bathing.
- Dermatologic skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema and psoriasis can frequently contribute to dry skin.
Complications of Dry Skin:
Dry skin can not only be uncomfortable and annoying, it can also put you at increased risk of potential skin complications if not properly addressed.
One potential complication is infection. When the skin is dry and cracked it is more susceptible to bacterial, fungal and viral infections.
The second potential complication to be aware of is dermatitis. Dry skin can often be a factor in flares of atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, contact/irritant dermatitis and dyshidrotic eczema on the hands.
Nine simple tips to help keep your skin feeling soft and moisturized this winter:
- Use a gentle fragrance-free moisturizing hand soap and lotion. While the latest fragranced product may smell great, some people find they irritate their skin.
- Apply a Ceramide lotion to wet skin (such as with a splash of water from the sink) after as many hand washings throughout the day as possible. While almost any lotion can provide some temporary relief to dry skin, a ceramide lotion can actually help gradually repair your skin barrier making your skin less likely to dry out. Ceramides are part of normal skin that helps you lock in moisture. Look for this ingredient to be listed in your lotion. Examples include Cerave Moisturizing Lotion, Aveeno Eczema Therapy Cream and Cetaphil Pro Restoraderm Lotion.
- Apply a thick emollient to wet skin at night. Examples of emollients are Vaseline, Aquaphor or Neutrogena Norwegian hand cream. In addition, you can cover the emollient with cotton gloves to help lock in the moisture.
- Invest in a whole home humidifier.
- Decrease stress. Many conditions such as psoriasis often flare during stressful times, whether it is emotional or physical stress on the body.
- Protect your hands against extensive water, heat, cold or irritant exposure. When gloves are necessary choose vinyl or cotton gloves when possible and try to avoid rubber, plastic or latex gloves.
- Take shorter cooler showers.
- Small dry cracks without any signs of infection can be temporarily super glued until skin has a chance to heal.
- Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water.
We hope these tips help to relieve your dry, cracking skin this winter. If you have any skin related concerns or would like to schedule a yearly skin cancer screening appointment with Christina Burr, PA-C, Dermatology provider, please call Southwest Health at 608-342-5060.