Winter is coming and that means falling snow, holidays, sled rides and…..dry skin. Every winter thousands of people dread the appearance or worsening of their dry skin symptoms and seek new ways to beat this powerful foe. This year, take control of your skin and don’t let itchy and flaky skin put a damper on your winter wonderland.

Dry or itchy skin is a common condition that can occur all year round but peaks during the colder months when there is a drop in the humidity. Normally healthy and hydrated skin becomes dry, cracked and flaky. Mature skin may show increased fine lines and wrinkles due to the lack of moisture. For the most part, dry skin effects the arms, hands, legs and feet but can also occur on the trunk of the body or even the face (chapped lips anyone?).

The most common complaint when suffering from “winter skin” is a persistent itchiness that can be made worse when in contact with fabrics or liquids. Over time excessive cracking can and will lead to thick and rough patches of skin (called lichenification). This thicker skin not only develops lines and wrinkles but is prone to developing painful cracks (fissures) that may result in bleeding and irritated skin. Severe skin conditions can result from bacterial infections that can develop because of these and other conditions such as nummular eczema (red, scaly patches of skin) or dermatitis (inflamed skin).

The potential outcomes of winter skin are enough to take notice and take action before things get out of hand. Always remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and that is especially true in health care. Developing a proper skin care routine and faithfully maintaining a schedule will reduce your chances of developing winter skin this season.

Why does winter skin develop in the first place? The cells in the outermost layer of your skin are designed to protect the body and hold in the water to hydrate the interior layers. Loss of this water prevents the outer layer from doing its job and soon the moisture your skin so desperately needs to stay healthy slips away and you are left with dry and unhealthy skin. This can occur from over washing the hands (a frequent problem in the nursing field), exposure to harsh chemicals, changes in humidity and the natural aging process are all frequent culprits. Although some people naturally have “dry skin” and suffer this problem all the time.

Treatment options are available and can be quite effective in preventing or relieving the symptoms of winter skin. Water is not the solution and can frequently worsen the problem, not solve it so step away from the sink! A good moisturizer however is a great way to penetrate the skin and trap moisture in so the skin becomes smooth and supple. Choose a moisturizer specifically designed to target dry skin and use it regularly. If you have more severe symptoms, consult with a doctor and discuss potential treatment options – dry skin can sometimes require pharmaceutical grade products that are not available over the counter. Not all over the counter products to treat itchiness are safe to use on irritated skin so consult with a doctor or pharmacist before use.

Increase the humidity in your home or office if possible. There is no way to change the environment outside but by making strides to limit your exposure to the dry air, the better your skin will feel. Humidifiers are readily available in most local stores and online.

Remember to use sun block, even in the winter. Some sun blocks include a moisturizer along with SPF protection so you would receive double benefits! If you are outside, cover up your skin and limit sun exposure when possible. Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean your skin is not suffering from UV radiation.

Cover up your hands when you go outside and remove wet articles of clothing as soon as possible. The skin on your hands is some of the thinnest skin on your body and cannot bear being constantly exposed during the winter months! Stay warm and protect your skin!

Avoid skin treatments that will exfoliate or strip the skin of essential oils if possible. Remember it is the loss of moisture and natural oils that dried your skin out to begin with, don’t cause further aggravation with harsh chemicals! This can include masques, exfoliants and peels.

Protect your lips when going outside. Use a lip balm to keep the moisture in and banish those unsightly cracks – you will thank yourself. Remember that irritated skin reacts poorly when exposed to different materials and spicy food on sensitive lips can cause more than just a little discomfort.

Learning to control your winter skin is a battle well worth fighting. Just think of all the discomfort you have endured in the past seasons and make a commitment for this year to be different (a great New Year’s resolution!). If you are prone to dry skin, try keeping your regimen going all year round to see maximum benefits. Some treatments may require a few days to work to their full extent so be patient with your skin and allow it the time it needs to heal.

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