The ski resorts have opened for the season, ice skating is back at Frog Pond, and it’s dark at 4:30pm – must be winter in New England. Another sure sign winter has returned: itchy skin. Dry skin (or “winter itch,” as it’s sometimes called) occurs when dry air pulls moisture from the skin, weakening the skin barrier. The body has difficulty rebuilding the barrier, which in turn leads to itchy skin. Itching leads to scratching which can invite trauma and infection.
To help keep your skin healthy this winter use warm (not hot) water when bathing, and stick to one shower/bath a day (or every other day if possible). Scented liquid soaps and body washes can be drying; therefore bar soap (such as Dove® for sensitive skin or Cetaphil®) is preferred. Use your hands to apply soap to the underarms and groin. Avoid loofahs and vigorous scrubbing. Pat dry and apply an emollient which is better absorbed immediately following bathing.
Moisturizers that come in jars are generally recommended as they’re thicker than those that come in a pump bottle. CeraVe®, Cetaphil®, Curel®, Aveeno® and Eucerin® are good moisturizers that can be purchased at any local drugstore and do not require a prescription. The bottom line is to pick something you like and stick with it! For dry hands and feet, try applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly and then wear thin cotton gloves & socks to bed, which will help lock in moisture.
Despite the best efforts to keep the skin hydrated and prevent infections, problems can still arise. Contact your healthcare provider right away if you develop painful, hot, red skin which can be accompanied by fever. Another common problem is chronic lower leg swelling (or venous stasis) caused by poor blood return back to the heart. Over time, the legs can become itchy with skin breakdown which puts the individual at greater risk for infection. If your primary provider cannot manage your skin problems, he or she can refer you to a dermatologist if necessary. We hope these simple tips will keep your skin healthy for 2015!