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Ready to ditch dry, itchy skin this winter? Try these dermatologist tips to soothe all season.

There’s a lot to love about winter. Freshly fallen snow. Holiday gatherings. Cozying up by a crackling fire. But it can be hard to enjoy the season when Jack Frost nipping at your nose leads to dry, itchy and cracked skin. Learn how to keep your glow even in the bitter cold.

What causes dry skin in winter?

When temps and humidity levels drop during winter, it causes moisture from our skin to evaporate more quickly.

“Other factors like indoor heat, hot showers and use of harsh soaps can also make matters worse,” explains Christen Mowad, MD, a dermatologist at Geisinger Healthplex Woodbine in Danville and Geisinger Selinsgrove.

Does drinking water help dry skin?

You might have heard from TikTok, YouTube and magazines that drinking more water is a quick fix for dry skin. Unfortunately, that might not be the case. 

“While drinking water is great for your general health, it probably won’t make much of a difference when it comes to dry skin,” explains Dr. Mowad. “Instead, focus on preventing moisture loss and hydrating from the outside.”

6 tips to treat dry skin

A few simple changes to your routine can help keep you soothed and hydrated during the colder months. These top tips from Dr. Mowad will help you get rid of dry skin:

1. Lather on the right moisturizer

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

Things to look for in a moisturizer:

  • Choose a cream over lotion: Thicker creams are better than thinner lotions.
  • Fragrance-free: Added fragrances and essential oils can cause irritation.
  • Humectants: Humectants (like hyaluronic acid and urea) help draw moisture to your skin.
  • Occlusives: Occlusives (like dimethicone and petrolatum) help lock in moisture.
  • Ceramides: This ingredient can help repair a damaged skin barrier, preventing future moisture loss.
  • Noncomedogenic: This is especially important when looking for a moisturizer for your face, because it means the product won’t clog your pores.

To keep your hands and feet soft and supple, try applying a moisturizer before bed and wearing breathable cotton socks and gloves to really lock in the hydration. And don’t forget to slather on a moisturizing lip balm to protect your lips!

2. Stick to gentle cleansers and exfoliators

“When you have dry, itchy skin, avoid fragranced soaps and only use gentle cleansers on spots that really need it,” suggests Dr. Mowad. “Exfoliation can help slough off rough patches, but too much can cause further irritation.” 

Instead of abrasive physical exfoliants like sugar scrubs, products with gentle chemical exfoliants like polyhydroxy acid or lactic acid are better for dry and sensitive skin. 

3. 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 afterward.

“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.

4. Boost moisture with a humidifier

Basking in the warm glow of a fire sure sounds great, but it can seriously sap the moisture from the air and your skin. Using a humidifier can help replenish the moisture lost from indoor heat sources like central heating, fireplaces and space heaters. 

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

5. Treat cracked skin

The lack of moisture in the air can also cause cracked skin. “If your skin cracks, treat it right away to avoid infection,” says Dr. Mowad. 

Take these steps to treat cracked skin:

  • Gently wash the area around the crack.
  • Apply an ointment (like Vaseline).
  • Contact your doctor if you see signs of infection like redness, swelling and pain that’s not improving.

6. Stay protected from the elements

If you need to spend time outside, keep exposed areas protected from cold winds by bundling up with a hat, scarf and gloves. 

And 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 30,” says Dr. Mowad. “You can easily incorporate sun protection into your routine by choosing a face moisturizer with SPF.”

Dry, itchy 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 other health conditions,” explains Dr. Mowad. 

Other potential causes of dry skin include:

  • Psoriasis
  • Eczema
  • Allergic reactions

A dermatologist can diagnose conditions and prescribe stronger treatments, if needed, and suggest a routine to keep your skin healthy no matter the season.

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