Ways to deal with dry skin in winter
Dry skin is a very common skin problem and is often worse during the winter when environmental humidity is low.Wintertime poses a special problem because humidity is low both outdoors and indoors, and the water content of the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) tends to reflect the level of humidity around it. Fortunately, there are many simple and inexpensive things you can do to relieve winter dry skin, also known as winter itch or winter xerosis. It can occur at all ages and in people with or without other skin problems.
What causes dry skin?
When your skin doesn't have enough protective oils, moisture escapes from it. And when there isn't enough water in the outermost layer of your skin, it becomes dry. This effect can intensify during the winter when environmental humidity is low.
Other common causes of dry skin include:
* Overuse of soap and hot water
* Exposure to harsh chemicals
* Certain types of skin diseases
The outermost layer of the skin consists of dead skin cells embedded in a mixture of natural oils that are made by underlying living skin cells. These natural skin oils keep the water inside our body from escaping into the air and also keep irritating substances and germs from entering the body. Both the skin oils and the dead skin cells hold a certain amount of water that helps keep the skin soft, pliable, and smooth.
Dry skin results when there is not enough water in the top layer of skin for it to function properly. One way this can happen is when protective oils in the stratum corneum are lost so water that is normally present in the skin is allowed to escape. Too much soap, exposure to harsh chemicals, the normal aging process, and certain types of skin diseases are some of the causes of decreased amounts of protective skin oils. As the skin dries out it shrinks and, as it shrinks, small cracks can occur. This exposes the underlying living cells to irritating substances and germs in the environment.
How can you treat dry skin?
* You should take a short bath or shower (no more than 10 minutes) once in a 24-hour period.
* Bathing should be in warm rather than hot water.
* Soap should be used minimally and where/when needed (for example, under the arms, the groin and genitals, the feet, and the face).
* Mild soaps should be used (unscented, those designed for sensitive skin).
* After showering, quickly and gently pat the skin partially dry with a towel.
* Within three minutes of getting out, apply a moisturizer of cream or ointment to seal the water in the skin before it evaporates.
* Moisturizers should be reapplied liberally during the day and evening when possible, especially to those areas prone to dryness. If dry skin affects your hands, reapply moisturizers after handwashing.
* Bath oils can be helpful, but use them with caution: they can make the tub slippery.
* To reduce the risk of trauma to the skin, avoid bath sponges, scrub brushes, and washcloths. If you don't want to give them up altogether, be sure to use a light touch. For the same reason, pat or blot (don't rub) the skin when toweling dry.
* Apply moisturizer immediately after bathing or after washing your hands. This helps plug the spaces between your skin cells and seal in moisture while your skin is still damp.
* To reduce the greasy feel of petroleum jelly and thick creams, rub a small amount in your hands, and then rub it over the affected areas until neither your hands nor the affected areas feel greasy.
* Never, ever scratch. Most of the time, a moisturizer can control the itch. You can also use a cold pack or compress to relieve itchy spots.
* Use sunscreen in the winter as well as the summer to prevent photoaging.
* When shaving, use a shaving cream or gel and leave it on your skin for several minutes before starting.
* Use fragrance-free laundry detergents and avoid fabric softeners.
* Avoid wearing wool and other fabrics that can irritate the skin.