Updated: November 19, 2020
There’s nothing worse than dry skin in winter…except maybe itchy skin in winter. Let’s face it: For most of us, winter skin is not our best skin. But the right winter skin care routine can help skin maintain that healthy summer glow.
What puts the “dry” in dry winter skin?
Winter skin is pretty much synonymous with dry skin (aka xerosis) thanks to outdoor air that’s naturally less humid and indoor air that’s less humid because of forced-air heat. The water content in the top layer of skin tends to change with the water content in the air, so drier air means a drier hide.
Dry skin in winter becomes a bigger issue with age, since the skin thins as we get older and doesn’t hold as much moisture. As the years go on, the skin’s sebaceous glands also produce less oil. This happens in women sooner than in men.
The skin may become so dry that it cracks and bleeds. In winter, eczema is also more likely to rear its ugly head.
The best moisturizer for dry skin in winter
The best way to prevent and treat dry skin in winter is to get in the habit of applying moisturizer at least twice a day. But choose your moisturizer carefully.
Before you grab a bottle of lotion, understand this: Most lotions contain a lot of water. After you apply the lotion to your skin, some of that water evaporates. When it does, the skin dries out further. Generally speaking, especially if you live in a cold climate, for dry, winter skin you’re better off with a cream or, for real trouble spots, an ointment. Creams and ointments contain more “grease” and less water.
Creams have another advantage over most lotions: Because the contain less water, they require less preservative, which means they have less potential for irritating sensitive skin.
Over-the-counter moisturizer brands dermatologists often recommend include CeraVe, Cetaphil, Vanicream and Eucerin. For ointments, Aquaphor Healing Ointment is one of the best. Other good ointment brands are Vaseline, Cetaphil, CeraVe and Aveeno.
Benefit-boosting ingredients to look for in a moisturizer include lactic acid and urea. Both are humectants, substances that pull water into the outer layer of skin to keep it moist. Ceramides and hyaluronic acid (gentler than it sounds) also pamper winter skin.
Cool your jets to stop the itch
Tempting as a long, steamy shower can be in winter, just say no. Save the hot water for washing dishes. Hot water can strip skin of its natural oils and make dryness and itching worse. Take warm showers instead, and try to limit your time under the spray to 10 minutes. On vacation, bypass the hot tub.
Use soap only where you need it, and choose a mild, fragrance-free soap or a non-soap moisturizing cleanser such as Dove. Pat yourself dry with a towel (don’t rub) and apply moisturizer while your skin is still damp. For extra-dry spots, petroleum jelly works well. After a shower is the best time to apply it, since it works by sealing in existing moisture. Unlike lotions and creams, petroleum jelly doesn’t contain water.
Other winter skin care tips
Slathering on the moisturizer and turning the hot water faucet lower should go a long way toward preventing and easing winter dryness and itching, but don’t stop there. These measures can also help keep your skin soft, supple and crack free all winter long:
- Run a humidifier in the room you use most. A humidifier is the best weapon against dry indoor air.
- Wear loose clothing. Winter is not the time for form-fitting pants or tops if you’re prone to itchy skin. Dress in layers if necessary.
- Review your skin care routine. Continue to use a mild exfoliating product, whether it’s a gentle scrub or an exfoliating cleanser containing glycolic acid, since removing dead skin cells help moisturizer penetrate better. But if your skin is dry and itchy, you may want to take a break from products containing ingredients such as retinoids, which may be too drying in winter.
- Avoid irritants. That includes wool and other scratchy fabrics. It may even include your regular laundry detergent. Try switching to a hypoallergenic laundry detergent and see if that helps. Wear gloves to protect your hands when washing dishes.
When to see a dermatologist
If you’re still battling dryness and itching after babying your skin, it’s time to consult your dermatologist. You may need a topical steroid cream or another prescription cream or ointment. Your dermatologist can also rule out underlying health conditions, including hypothyroidism, diabetes, kidney disease and liver disease, that can cause dry, itchy skin.
In the meantime, do yourself a favor and resist scratching. It only makes things worse.
Article Written By: Marianne Wait, an award-winning health and wellness writer based in New Jersey.