Dry skin happens when the skin is unable to retain enough moisture. Winter months, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, lend to low humidity which in turn leads to dry skin. The level of moisture within the skin is dependent on the water level of the outermost layer of the skin, called the epidermis.
Winter itch and winter xerosis are the terms for winter dry skin. Although this is an issue that many will come across, there are plenty of easy, affordable and even natural ways to combat dry skin.
How to Combat Dry Skin This Winter - Moisturizers
Skin moisturizers work because they hydrate the skin cells and seal in moisture. They are very effective due to three main ingredients - humectants, petrolatum and emollients. Humectants help attract moisture, petrolatum seals in moisture and emollients fill in cracked spaces between skin cells. It is best to moisturize the skin directly after a shower or bath. This is because when the skin is still damp, it allows for moisture to be sealed in.
The least expensive moisturizers like mineral oil and petroleum jelly are also the most effective ones. This is because they do not contain water. Since these can be a bit greasy, some prefer to use moisturizers that contain water. If one wants to go the inexpensive route while avoiding a greasy feel, it is still possible. One way to do this is through rubbing moisturizer into the hands before applying to the rest of the body. Another way is to use powders that take away shine and grease.
How to Combat Dry Skin This Winter - Natural Moisturizers
Some natural options available for moisturizing the skin are olive oil and coconut oil. Both contain antibacterial properties and do not have added chemicals. Studies and clinical trials have shown coconut oil to be as effective as mineral oils. There is less known research around olive oil but Mediterranean women have used it for hundreds of years. It does contain phenolic properties which are antibacterial (think green tea) and it has been shown to reduce inflammation.
How to Combat Dry Skin This Winter - Dry Skin Tips
1. Humidifier - use this in the winter and set it to around 60%. This will replenish the epidermus.
2. Limit hot water exposure - a 5-10 minute bath or shower is recommended in the wintertime. Otherwise the skin's oily layer will be stripped. Use lukewarm water instead of hot water in order to retain natural oils.
3. Limit soap use - consider soap free cleansers and moisturizing products like Dove and Cetaphil.
4. Avoid washcloths or bath sponges - these can damage the skin. If you must use them, do not rub against the skin but instead pat or blot the skin.
5. Apply moisturizer Quickly- do this directly after a bath or a shower to seal in moisture while the skin is still damp.
6. Rub into hands first - this reduces the greasy feel of thick creams. Use a small amount in the hands before applying to the rest of the body.
7. Do not scratch - this can break the skin and cause damage. Moisturizing should help but if needed, use a cold pack instead or a compress.
8. Go fragrance-free - fragrance-free fabrics and detergents will not irritate the skin.
9. Don't wear irritating fabrics - certain sweaters, wool and other materials may irritate the skin.
Regardless of climate, most people will come across having dry skin at one time or another. Although it is not a serious issue, it can be irritating or lead to various complications. Some of these being, chronic eczema, (red itchy skin) fissures, (can cause bleeding) or bacterial infection which often includes swelling, redness and requires antibiotics.
Be sure to consult your clinician if the symptoms above are occuring and measures at home are providing no relief.