Every winter my skin gets very dry and itchy. I am doing the normal skin care and yet it does not seem to help. What should I do?
This is a very common complaint of patients that I see. Alberta winter demands that we treat our skin differently.
When the snow flies, the skin dries - It also cracks, peels, itches and generally makes people miserable.
While people winterize their cars and cottages, they spend less time considering how to weatherproof their body’s largest organ. While dry, itchy skin may seem like no big deal, I say skin deserves some care and consideration because it can have a serious effect on our overall health.
Our skin has many important functions. It is a barrier keeping things from invading our body and keeping the contents of our bodies, both solid and liquid, from leaking out of us. It is a sensory organ. It helps regulate our temperature. It gives us our shape. It provides cushion to underlying structures, and it is used in personal communication. These complex functions require complex skin machinery.
The winter weather can cause this "machinery" to malfunction if is not cared for properly. The temperature of the air has a profound effect on the skin. It is through the absolute temperature as well as the moisture content that air around us influences our skin. As the temperature of the air drops, so does its ability to hold moisture.
Dry conditions, particularly in Alberta, are especially harsh on the skin. When the relative humidity inside drops below 60% skin begins to lose moisture, causing dryness and itching.
The top layer of the skin, known as the epidermis, along with oil glands produce fatty substances called lipids to keep the skin from losing moisture and make it supple. A dry environment as well as washing the skin strips away lipids, allowing moisture to evaporate and drying the skin. When the cells in the outer layer of skin get dry, their edges curl up and the skin feels rough.
The capacity of air to carry moisture (water content) decreases as the temperature decreases – this means that there is less water in the air. This, in turn, causes the moisture from our skin to be transferred to the surrounding air resulting in dry skin. When the skin is dry, it does not work properly and micro breaks develop. These small breaks in the skin allow allergens and irritants to get access to our body causing irritation and itching. All of us need to modify our environment and the way we treat out skin in winter.
Here is the list of easy things that one can do at home to help your skin survive winter:
- Have a humidifier in our bedroom – we spend a good portion of our life in bedrooms and this is a place where our body and skin needs to regenerate. Optimal humidity is one excellent way to help out skin to renew itself. Have a humidifier run during a day and you can keep it off during the night (less noise allowing you to rest). It is not enough to have a humidifier with your furnace and supplementary bedroom humidifier is frequently required.
- Decrease the temperature of water in the shower or bath. The higher the water temperature, the more moisture it will remove from your skin and cause irritation. Try to use as little water as you can and make sure it is not too hot.
- When shampooing your hair use only enough shampoo to do the job. You do not need shampoo all over your body – it is designed for your hair and scalp and too much of it can be irritating.
- When using soap, focus on the critical areas such as underarms, groin and feet. Your elbows, stomach and knees did not get dirty overnight.
- When towelling, pat your skin and do not rub. Rubbing will remove too much moisture.
- After gently towelling, apply moisturizer to “lock” the moisture in.
- Enjoy your soft, smooth moisturized skin.
Occasionally specific skin conditions present with dryness and itchiness.
If the above measures do not help you, seek an advice of a dermatologist – your skin expert.
Good luck and enjoy our beautiful Alberta winter.