Protecting Your Skin During the Winter Months

Lacartia V. Best, MD

Winter can be a cozy time when you’re warm and toasty indoors. But cold, dry weather is also a common cause of “winter itch.”

57-year-old Kelly of Silver Spring, Md., knows what painful winter skin is like. “It is always worse in the winter,” she says. “Just opening and closing my hand is uncomfortable. My skin can split. My hands have actually bled in the winter and I’m uncomfortable even shaking hands. But thanks to Dr. Best, I now have it under control.”

Lacartia V. Best, MD, a dermatologist at MedStar Montgomery MedicalCenter, examined Kelly’s condition and prescribed a topical ointment. She also recommended that Kelly keep her showers short and not too hot, since water and soap can dry skin out and wash away protective oils. Kelly says that these changes have made an enormous differencein the appearance of her skin.

“It looks like I have a different pair of hands now. I just can’t believe it,” she says. “I can wear nail polish again because I’m not afraid to show off my hands.”

Tending to dry skin is not only a matter of your appearance—it’s also about health and safety. If skin becomes severely dry, it can start to crack, which may lead to infection. Dr. Best says it is important to make sure you are doing all you can to protect your skin this time of year.

Dr. Best’s most important tip? Moisturize! Apply natural oils and unscented creams to soften and moisturize your skin. Make sure the products don’t contain too much alcohol, which is drying.

“Put a cream on your skin every day, especially immediately after you shower. That traps water in the skin and that hydration can reduce itching quite a bit,” Dr. Best says. “I hear people say all the time that they are in too much of a rush to put on cream. But it shouldn’t take a long time and it makes an enormous difference.”

There are many causes of dry skin. Aging and hormonal effects of menopause can cause dry skin, but can be treated with daily cream. The skin on your hands is also thinner than on other parts of your body, making it especially difficult to keep them moisturized. Wearing gloves when you wash dishes and when you are outside in the cold can help.

Dr. Best’s other tips to protect your skin include:

  • Drink more water, as long as you don’t have fluid restrictions for heart or liver disease or another medical condition.
  • Use a humidifier to get moisture into the air of your home or office.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (often found in fish) and take a daily multivitamin to moisturize your skin from the inside out.

If none of this helps, it’s time to seek out a specialist like Dr. Best, who can diagnose and help manage a variety of skin conditions. She says it’s important that people know that skin problems are common and are generally fixable.

“I see people every day with urgent skin concerns,” Dr. Best says. “It’s really rewarding to help them understand how to maintain healthy skin.”