Dermatologists give cold weather skin care tips

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Temperatures are dropping, which means trouble for people who battle skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and dryness.

But experts say there are things you can do to minimize the impact of colder temperatures on your skin.

Frequently applying moisturizer is an obvious one. But some tips aren’t so clear-cut. For example, those hot showers you love so much could be working against you.

We talked to skin care experts who shared everything you need to know about caring for your skin this winter.

Consider if you may be prone to dry skin

Before you start making changes, you should be aware that some people are just more prone to having dry skin, experts say. And the cooler weather doesn’t help.

For example, more mature patients are more likely to experience dry skin symptoms, Dr. Rawn Bosley, dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon at Signature Dermatology in Grapevine, Texas told USA TODAY. As people mature, our skin barrier becomes “disrupted” and we begin to experience transepidermal water loss, he said. 

Transepidermal water loss occurs when water evaporates through the skin and into the air. It can lead to dryness, especially on the arms, legs and face, Bosley said.

“And then certain ethnic groups, particularly darker skin types, are genetically predisposed to having more transepidermal water loss and therefore are predisposed to having drier skin,” Bosley said.

Bosley also said there are some skin conditions that can come up due to cold weather patterns, such as a rash called erythema ab igne that develops after sitting next to fireplaces and using heating pads for prolonged periods of time.

“We start to use the heater in the house. We use seat warmers in the car. We sit by the fireplace and all these things can contribute to worsening of dry skin symptoms,” Bosley said.

Whether you regularly battle dry skin or simply experience bouts of dryness during the winter months, there are things you can do help.

Change the way you shower

Instead of steaming hot showers, try lukewarm showers, said Dr. Yen Chen Liu, a dermatologist at MercyOne North Iowa Medical Center in Mason City, Iowa.

“Hot water is really good at getting rid of grease, so that’s why we use hot water for dishes,” he said. “Your skin is not a dish. You don’t want to completely dry out the skin.”

Lui also recommends limiting your shower to 10 minutes because long-term exposure to water can dry the skin out, almost making the water an irritant.

Other tips include:

  • Drying off partially (not fully) to retain moisture from the shower.
  • Patting yourself dry versus rubbing.
  • Applying moisturizer while your skin is still damp.
  • Showering a few times a week instead of each day. This is especially true if you are elderly because as you age, your body produces less grease.
  • Using body scrubbers in moderation.
  • Being gentle with your skin.

“You don’t have to scrub,” Dr. Uchenna Okereke, a Boston area dermatologist with Dermatology Associates, said. “Sometimes when you’re scrubbing, you’re scrubbing away some of the natural oils. Treat your skin with kindness. It’s not your enemy. It’s not the floor.”

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Turn off off your dehumidifier and use a humidifier

The cause for dry skin is a decrease in the air’s humidity, said Liu, the Iowa dermatologist.

Where he lives in the Midwest, lots of people use dehumidifiers in the summertime. Those dehumidifiers can be turned off during the winter, he said.

“Otherwise, it’ll be way too dry and that will worsen the problem of having dry skin in the winter,” Liu said.

Okereke, from Boston, said she recommends keeping a humidifier on hand during the winter to release moisture back into the air.

Be picky about clothing

It’s OK to be picky about what you wear, said Okereke. If possible, avoid clothing that makes your skin feel itchy or irritated.

“It can be the cutest sweater in the world,” she said. “If it feels itchy, I’m not wearing it. Having that discernment when you’re purchasing clothing is going to help a lot.”

Moisturize and then wear gloves or socks on your hands at night

Liu, from Iowa, said people who cook or work in the food or medical industries get especially dry skin during the winter because they wash their hands frequently. Sometimes the skin on their hands begin to crack, said Liu, adding that he washes his hands 23 times a day.

“It’s not so much the soap. It’s actually the water itself,” he said. “What people can do is they can use moisturizer on their hands and they can go to sleep with gloves on … just regular white cotton gloves.”

They could also pair the moisturizer with old socks, he said. By moisturizing and then covering your hands with gloves or socks, people can retain more moisture on their hands.

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Choose the right moisturizing products

Bosley, the Texas dermatologist, suggests washing up with moisturizing soaps such as Olay, Dove and other soaps that won’t strip the skin. 

Liu said different moisturizers serve different purposes, such as watery moisturizers like lotion that are easy to apply but will evaporate quicker (meaning you have to apply them more frequently).

And then there are greasier moisturizers that are better at locking in moisture but can be messy.

Here’s what else experts recommend.

  • Switch to heavier creams during the cooler months.
  • Try creams and ointments that have ceramides in them (fats that live between our skin cells and lock in moisture).
  • Try products containing salicylic acid and urea because the acid can help get rid of the top layer of skin (allowing urea to penetrate the skin better).

Bosley also suggests layering cream with ointment to give your skin an extra layer of protection. It’s the best way to “optimize” your moisturizer, he said.

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