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‘Tis the season for dry, itchy skin. During winter, cold weather can wreak havoc on your skin – making it dry, itchy and irritated. Here are some dermatologist-approved winter skin care tips to help keep your skin happy and healthy this season.

So, what causes dry skin during winter?

“When temps and humidity levels drop during winter, it causes water to evaporate from our skin quicker, which can make it dry, itchy and cracked,” explains Dr. Christen Mowad, dermatologist at Geisinger Woodbine Lane in Danville and Geisinger Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove. “Other factors such as indoor heat, hot showers and use of harsh soaps can also contribute to dry skin.”

Have the dry skin blues? Here are Dr. Mowad’s tips for combating dry winter skin:

Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize

Applying a thick, moisturizing cream is crucial for keeping your skin hydrated during winter. “After you take a bath or shower, pat your skin dry and apply a thick cream immediately to help lock in that moisture,” suggests Dr. Mowad.

Here’s some things to look for in a moisturizer:

  • Choose a cream over lotion – creams work better than lotions.
  • Fragrance-free – fragrance can irritate your dry skin further.
  • Ceramides – this ingredient helps form a barrier on your skin to prevent moisture loss.
  • Hyaluronic acid and dimethicone – these ingredients also work to keep skin hydrated and smooth.
  • Noncomedogenic – especially important when looking for a moisturizer for your face, this means the product won’t clog your pores.

You can even apply moisturizer to your hands and feet before bed, then wear breathable cotton socks and gloves to really lock in the hydration. And slather on a moisturizing lip balm to protect your lips!

Treat cracked skin

The lack of moisture in the air can not only lead to dry skin, it can also cause cracked skin. “If your skin cracks, treat it right away to avoid infection,” says Dr. Mowad. 

Gently wash the area around the crack, apply a skin ointment (like Vaseline) and watch for signs of infection such as redness, swelling and pain that’s not improving. If you see signs of infection, contact your doctor.

Take shorter, cooler showers

We know, we know – but hear us out! A long, hot shower (or bath) might feel amazing when it’s cold outside, but it can dehydrate your skin, especially if you aren’t moisturizing afterwards.

“Keep showers and baths to 10 minutes or less and use lukewarm water,” suggests Dr. Mowad. “Use lukewarm water when washing your hands, too.” And don’t forget to moisturize your hands after washing.

Consider using a humidifier

Since indoor heat sources (central heating, fireplaces and space heaters) can contribute to your dry skin, use a humidifier to add moisture back into the air – and back into your skin. 

“Try using a humidifier where you spend the most time at home, for example, in your bedroom,” suggests Dr. Mowad.

Stick to gentle cleansers

“Most soaps can dry your skin out,” says Dr. Mowad. “If your skin is feeling dry or itchy, reduce your soap usage by only washing the spots that really need it or try a gentler cleanser instead of your usual soap.” 

Try skipping fragranced soaps and body washes, too. Instead, opt for a cleanser that’s fragrance-free and formulated for sensitive skin.

Don’t forget sunscreen

Even though the sun’s rays are less intense during winter, they can still burn and damage your skin. “When heading outside, apply sunscreen of at least SPF 15 to protect exposed skin,” says Dr. Mowad. When it comes to protecting your face, look for a moisturizer that includes sunscreen – win-win!

You can also protect your skin further by wearing a hat, scarf and gloves.

Dry skin not going away?

If your skin is dry no matter what you do, it may be time to see a dermatologist. “Persistent dryness, itchiness and cracking can be signs of health conditions like psoriasis, eczema or an allergic reaction,” explains Dr. Mowad. 

A dermatologist can prescribe stronger treatments, if needed, and can suggest a skin care routine to keep your skin healthy during these harsh winter months.

Next steps:

Read our guide to decoding sunscreen

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