Dry and itchy skin is a common complaint during the Winter months. This condition is otherwise known as ‘Winter itch’. Heat, wind, dry air and long hot showers all take their toll on the skin. The thin layer of oil that traps moisture in the skin is easily lost, causing small cracks to appear in the skin barrier. These cracks lead to irritation and flare-ups of itchy conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and severe dry skin.
1. Moisturise regularly
The moisture that is lost from the skin, particularly in Winter, needs to be replaced. Application of a moisturiser makes the outermost layer of the skin softer by increasing its level of hydration. The beneficial effects of treatments that preserve the skin’s moisture may entirely reverse when they are stopped. The best time to moisturise is right after showering while the skin is still slightly damp. This traps the moisture into the skin. Or consider adding oil to the bath. Targeting problem areas initially is helpful.
2. Choose the correct moisturiser for your skin type
Moisturisers work in several ways. ‘Humectants’ such as urea draw and hold water in the skin. Other components then help seal in the water. Ointment-based moisturisers are more effective than predominantly water-based lotions for very dry skin. It is worth trying a few to decide which one works best on the problem areas.
3. Avoid soap
Soaps and shampoos may strip the skin of important oils. A gentle, soap-free cleanser should be used. Sorbolene may be used as a soap substitute.
4. Avoid long hot showers, baths, saunas and spas
It is tempting to take long hot showers when it is cold outside. They are a common cause of dry, irritable skin. It is important to remember to keep showers short and lukewarm.
5. Continue to wear a sunscreen
It is important for fair-skinned individuals to use a sunscreen in addition to a moisturiser on the face year-round in Australia.
6. Choose the right clothing
If your skin does flare up, choose soft, breathable fabrics, like cotton, instead of itchy woollens or polyester. Loose-fitting clothing will also help to keep your skin from chafing and becoming irritated by perspiration.
7. Turn the temperature down
The overuse of heaters can dry the air, exacerbating dry skin.
8. Get a check-up with your local doctor
Winter skin is more likely to be found in the elderly and those prone to eczema and allergies. The onset of dry skin may also be due to medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, diabetes
9. What medications are you taking?
Some prescription and over the counter medications may be associated with dry skin. These include lipid-lowering, blood pressure and vitamin A-based medications. If eczema and itch become a significant problem, a medication review may be worthwhile.
10. Look after yourself to avoid Winter skin
Good skin also comes from eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise and sleep. Ceasing smoking is also important, not just for the skin, but for your general health. Dry, red, itchy skin can have a significant impact on a person’s wellbeing. Itch may interfere with daily activities and even sleep. The toll the next few months will take on your skin may be minimised by preparing now.