Oh, the weather outside is frightful … and so are your chapped lips! The winter wind is taking its toll, and it seems like every exposed part of your body is cracked, chapped, red or raw. You’ve heard that coconut oil is a wonder; your next-door neighbor swears by something originally developed for cow udders; and your mom keeps telling you to “just wear your gloves, already.” Who’s right?
Well, it probably depends on the condition. Read on for a bit of wisdom about the different skin conditions caused or exacerbated by that winter wonderland outside, find out when to seek treatment and what you can do to help your condition. After all, changing your habits is a lot better than chapped skin!
Winter dry skin
Let’s start with plain old dry skin. In this case, winter itself isn’t as problematic as its solution: indoor heat. Air pumped through the heating system in your home, office and car becomes very dry, wicking moisture away from your skin. Dry skin shrinks — thus that tight, itchy feeling.
The solution? Lotions and oils are usually helpful for dry skin (although we recommend ones with as little scent as possible, to avoid extra ingredients that can irritate your skin). However, in this case, lowering your thermostat just a little can go a long way. When you get in the car, don’t blast the heat right away; set it lower and let it heat the car slowly. When you get home and want to get that nip out of the air, bump up the temperature by just a few degrees. In other words, avoid blowing gusts of hot, dry air directly onto your skin as much as possible.
Eczema and Psoriasis
Eczema and psoriasis are both chronic autoimmune responses that affect the skin. Eczema causes red, itchy, scaly skin; psoriasis creates an overproduction of skin cells, producing white, red or silvery calloused patches called “plaques.” Like ordinary dry skin, they can both be irritated by dry air, but clothing can also be a problem; many winter fabrics contain wool, which can aggravate these two conditions. Try to avoid this fabric if possible. Do, however, wear gloves in the cold. Psoriasis, in particular, often shows up on the hands.
Your doctor may give you cortisone cream to treat eczema or psoriasis. Avoid scented lotions or bath products, and don’t bathe too frequently — the oils on your skin are what keep it soft and supple, and you don’t want to wash them all away. (We advocate cleanliness, of course, but many people don’t require a shower every single day). When you get out of the bath, pat dry and then apply moisturizer or lotion before your skin dries completely.
If you begin to wonder whether you should audition for the Rudolph role in your kid’s Christmas play, you may be dealing with something more than simple winter redness. Rosacea is another chronic skin condition. It causes redness in the face as small blood vessels swell; sometimes small bumps can appear. Rosacea is best treated by a doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics or retinoid creams. If you have rosacea, it’s particularly important that you protect your face from the cold — a difficult feat, given that you need to see where you’re going! Try wrapping a soft scarf around your face to guard against the chill.
Ever looked in the mirror and discovered that the snowfall outside isn’t the only one around? Dandruff, a condition in which skin produces skin cells too rapidly and then flakes excessively, can be an embarrassing problem. It may be caused by seborrheic dermatitis, a condition similar to eczema and psoriasis that’s exacerbated by cold, dry weather. Protect your head when you’re out in the cold. You can also try medicated shampoos, which are thought to work by combatting the fungus that may be an underlying cause of seborrheic dermatitis. (Don’t worry — you’re not a dirty person! This fungus exists commonly on the heads of most people, but only seems to trigger dandruff in some of them).
If there’s no place to go, FastMed is open!
FastMed’s evening and weekend hours make us a perfect pit stop if you find yourself scratching at that skin during your romantic dinner by the firelight! Find a location near you to get a sense of which kind of irritation may be plaguing you. We can’t make the season go any faster, but we can treat you with the speed and courtesy that you deserve, and, just maybe, whisk away those winter skin woes.