Winter presents a unique challenge for your skin. It can be damaged by the cold and dampness outside, and when you finally make it back inside, the conditions may be just as bad. The hot air from the heater can dry out and irritate the skin on your face, hands and feet. Keeping your skin healthy this winter is no small task either, especially if you’re already dealing with a pre-existing skin condition or disease.

“During the winter, most people are concerned with avoiding colds and the flu,” said Geisinger dermatologist Dr. Christine Cabell. “However, they should also be concerned with making sure their skin is healthy, since dry and irritated skin can lead to winter flare-ups of conditions such as rosacea, eczema, psoriasis and Raynaud’s disease.”  

The skin conditions most likely to be affected

You may already have a strategy that works well for keeping your skin condition under control in the spring, summer, and fall. However, that strategy may not work as well when it’s stacked up against the harsh extremes of winter.

“As temperatures dip below freezing, skin takes a lot of abuse,” said Dr. Cabell. “Moving back and forth between cold and warm environments increases your risk for experiencing the negative symptoms of your skin condition.”

The following skin conditions and diseases are especially susceptible to flare-ups in the wintertime. Take precautions, such as following your prescribed treatment regimen, to lower your risk for a recurrence.

  • Rosacea: Rosacea is a long-term skin condition that causes facial redness, dilated blood vessels on facial skin, and swelling and pustules. Although doctors don’t know exactly what causes it, cold weather is a trigger for many sufferers.
  • Eczema: People with eczema experience red, itchy skin that may become thicker and bleed when scratched. It can appear anywhere on the body and frequently gets worse as skin becomes drier in the winter. 
  • Psoriasis: Psoriasis causes skin cells to multiply up to 10 times faster than normal. As these cells reach the skin surface and die, they cause raised red plaques, most frequently on the knees, elbows and scalp. The dry, cold air and decrease sunlight during winter can make the condition worse.
  • Raynaud’s disease: When you have Raynaud’s disease, the small arteries that supply blood to your skin narrow, limiting blood circulation to the affected area. This can cause the skin on your fingers and toes to feel cold and numb, change color and cause stinging pain. Cold air is a primary trigger for Raynaud’s symptoms.

Avoid triggers and see your doctor

If you have one of these skin conditions, your best strategy is to avoid conditions that will trigger symptoms. Try to keep your skin warm and moisturized, and avoid exposing it to extreme temperature changes whenever possible. It’s also a good idea to add moisture to indoor air by using a humidifier, which will help to protect your skin from drying out.

“Although you may be very familiar with treating your skin condition and avoiding the conditions that make it worse, don’t be afraid to ask for help from your doctor,” said Dr. Cabell. “Winter adds an additional level of complexity when dealing with skin conditions, and your doctor can help you come up with a strategy to reduce your risk for a flare-up.”