How to Avoid Dry, Itchy Winter Skin
Itchy Winter Skin
Follow these doctors’ orders
to fix parched skin
Winter is notoriously tough on your skin from head to toe. The air outside is colder and drier because of lower humidity levels. Inside, furnace-fueled heat leaves skin even more parched. “Dry skin loses much of its pliability so small cracks in the epidermal barrier occur more easily,” says Dr. James Beckman, a biochemist and surgeon who founded the clinical skincare brand Theraderm. That's why winter skin is often either dry, cracked or painfully tight, splotchy and burning.
Add to that this year's constant hand washing—warm water, plenty of soap, 20 seconds minimum—and you've got a recipe for disaster. “Healthy skin must be able to prevent excessive evaporation while still letting sweat occur from the openings of sweat glands,” says Dr. Beckman. “The protective barrier must also be flexible and stretchable.” The solution? Hydration. Your best defense is to be vigilant about moisturizing. And that calls for both the right products and the right technique. Thankfully, we've got expert tips on keeping your skin healthy and itch-free until spring.
Winter Moisturizing 101
Aim for shorter, lukewarm (not hot) showers until the weather warms up. And while you're in there, use a wash cloth to gently scrub your skin all over. This helps with itchiness and stimulates circulation, which boosts your body's natural oil production.
Dr. Beckman says you should apply moisturizers after showering—ideally while the skin is still damp—to allow an even spreading on the skin's surface while encouraging optimum penetration. And he says you want to rub it in at least 20 minutes heading outdoors to allow for maximum absorption.
According to New York City dermatologist Doris Day, M.D., you should look for creams that contain oil since it traps moisture in the skin better than water (which is often found in lighter lotions). She also suggests looking for oil in the first five ingredients to ensure it's a major part of the product's formula.
This rich formula soothes skin with coconut oil and aloe vera along with a blend of anti-inflammatory and calming essential oils. Plus, it smells great and absorbs quickly so your body and hands won't feel greasy.
Replenishing Hand & Body Moisturizer, $18 by Buckler's
Face feeling tight, dull or red? Consider a serum that soaks into the skin. Your body produces its own version of squalane, but it starts to decline as you approach 30, leaving skin vulnerable to dryness. This plant-derived formula will help maintain hydration.
100% Squalane oil,
$32 by Biossance
Dr. Beckman designed this cream to restore function as well as feel, replenishing deficient skin oils with natural lanolin, a true skin oil, from sheep's wool. It works well on any dry patches and helps heal cracked skin quickly.
Extreme Dry Skin Therapy,
$16.95 by Therderm
You're fighting a war against dryness here. Don't give up or give in. Persistence pays off when it comes to moisturizing. After your initial post-shower application, you might notice dry spots emerge or hands drying out after the fifth or sixth time you've washed them. That's why you want hit dry areas with another round of moisturizer. Set reminders on your phone through the day if you find yourself forgetting to reapply.
Utilize a Mask
We're not talking about a cloth face mask (though you should be wearing one of those this winter too). We mean applying a mask once a week to either exfoliate the dry, dead skin from your face or to soothe and hydrate the skin. These three are solid choices that deliver results.
When your body isn't properly hydrated, it prioritizes sending fluids to important organs like your heart and lungs rather than your skin. That's why the docs recommend increasing your water intake to help hydrate from within. They also say foods rich in essential fatty acids are a great way to keep your skin in top shape during the winter months. Focus on foods high in Omega-3s like salmon, tofu, walnuts and flaxseeds. Foods rich in vitamin A like sweet potatoes, carrots and dark, leafy greens will strengthen skin and allow it to create new layers.
Get a Humidifier
If the air in your home feels particularly dry, consider investing in a humidifier to add back the missing moisture. This one is small, quiet and can even be infused with your favorite essential oil to give the room some fragrance.
Humidifier with air purifier and essential oil tray, $31.99 by Levoit