Even though we experience milder winters than other parts of the country, Washington’s winter weather can still wreak havoc on our skin. To avoid this, it’s important that we pay close attention to our daily habits and skin care regimens and nurture areas that are more sensitive and directly exposed to the elements.
We spoke with Marit Kreidel, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente, to learn how to protect our skin from winter’s worst.
So, what habits can cause dry skin during the winter months?
- Taking hot showers: While they may be soothing and relaxing, long, hot showers and baths are terrible for our skin. They rid our skin of its natural protective oils and leave it feeling dry, tight and itchy. Likewise, over scrubbing can also strip the skin of its natural moisture. The best thing to do is to take a single, short lukewarm shower each day.
- Using too much soap: Squeaky clean is too clean — it means we removed our natural oils. Soap should be used sparingly and applied only to the areas where we have odor glands: feet, armpits, and groin. I recommend bar soaps over liquid cleansers, as they have fewer ingredients, including preservatives and fragrances that can irritate already dry skin.
- Raising the thermostat: Yes, it’s cold outside, but keeping our homes and cars too hot produces dry indoor air. This not only dries out the skin, but it also dries out our mucous membranes, which can lead to chapped lips, nosebleeds, and dry throats. To avoid this, set the thermostat to the lowest setting that’s comfortable.
What should our winter skin care regimens include?
The number one thing you can do to keep your skin supple is to moisturize within 3 minutes of bathing or showering. After bathing, pat yourself dry and while the skin is still moist, apply an emollient. Emollients are non-cosmetic moisturizers, which come in the form of creams, ointments, lotions, and gels. I recommend using an ointment or cream. Ointments have the highest oil content and lotions have the least. For best results, select a thick emollient that you have to scoop out of a jar or squeeze out of a tube. Also, don’t forget sunblock — even when it’s cloudy and cold. Sunblock should be part of your daily routine year-round.
What parts of our bodies need a little extra attention during the winter months and how can we care for them?
The number one area at risk is our hands. Our hands are getting washed many times a day — and while the skin on our hands is thicker, hands also come into contact with cleaning products and other substances that irritate our skin. Moisturize your hands after you wash them.
Our lips and heels are two other body parts that require a little extra attention during the winter months. To protect the lips, avoid licking them and consider using plain petroleum jelly as lip balm. Avoid lip products with scents or beeswax. To protect the heels, try putting a thick cream or greasy ointment on them — petroleum jelly works fine here too — slip on a pair of socks and head to bed.
If dryness becomes extreme, or you have a dry skin condition and it worsens, talk to your primary care provider about the best course of treatment.
In addition to her work with Kaiser Permanente, Dr. Kreidel is a volunteer faculty member with UC Irvine’s Department of Dermatology.
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