Nurturing your skin is something you should do all year long. But skin may need a little extra care during the winter months, when lower humidity, blustery winds and exposure to dry, indoor heat can make it drier and itchier than usual.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to protect your skin from damage.
First, experts suggest bathing in warm — not hot — water, and not spending more than ten minutes in the shower during a 24-hour period. Washing with hot, soapy water or washing too often — something we do more often in winter to protect ourselves from germs that cause illnesses, such as the flu — can contribute to dry skin because it removes the natural, protective oils that keep it hydrated.
Be sure to replace those natural oils by applying moisturizer within three minutes of getting out of the bath or shower, to seal the moisture in the skin. You can reapply moisturizer throughout the day, especially to areas most prone to dryness. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends ointments and creams rather than lotions to keep skin moist.
If you have problems with itching, cracking or redness, you may have dermatitis. A dermatologist can prescribe medicated creams or ointments to help treat it. You may want to also purchase a humidifier for your home or office to put moisture back into the air where you spend the majority of your time.
Heat rash — which occurs when pores are blocked and perspiration is trapped under the skin — can develop if you overdo it when bundling up to fight the cold. This can cause blisters or deep, red lumps that can become itchy. Wear breathable fabrics to prevent heat rash. According to the Mayo Clinic, heat rash usually clears up on its own.
Other rashes may develop during the winter months (or at any time during the year). It may be difficult to tell one from another, since many cause redness, itchiness, welts or blisters. The AAD notes that most rashes are not life-threatening. However, if the rash covers your entire body, is accompanied by a fever, spreads suddenly and rapidly, turns into open sores, is painful or becomes infected, you should see your healthcare provider for treatment.
In severely cold weather, or when you experience prolonged exposure to the cold, frostnip or frostbite may develop. Frostnip — the earliest stage of frostbite — does not cause permanent damage. Symptoms include a prickling feeling, followed by numbness and skin that turns red and feels very cold.
If it progresses to frostbite, the skin will turn white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow in color. When frostbite is serious, you may lose all sensation in the area or experience pain, and your joints and muscles may no longer work.
Frostbite occurs most commonly in areas that are most exposed to the cold or are not getting enough blood flow — such as the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin.
To treat frostbite, the Mayo Clinic recommends getting out of the cold, removing wet clothing and gently and gradually rewarming the affected areas using a warm-water bath. Do not rub the skin or use direct heat, such as a heating pad, because doing so can cause burns. Seek medical attention if the frostbite is severe.
The best way to prevent frostnip or frostbite is to be sure your skin is not exposed to the cold. Wear gloves, hats, earmuffs, scarves and warm socks.
Use Sunscreen Year-round
Though it may be winter, it’s still important to protect your skin from damaging UV rays, which can be just as strong on cold or cloudy days as they can be during sunny, summer ones. In fact, one study found that people who wore sunscreen every day of the year experienced 24-percent-less visible skin aging than those who did not.