Winter is almost here, and as the outside temperatures and humidity drop, and the indoor heat is turned up, our skin can become dry, cracked and inflamed, leading to “winter itch.”
Winter itch is a common and often very uncomfortable skin condition resulting in severe pruritus, or itching. As our skin dries out during the cold winter months, the protective epidermal barrier, or outermost layer of the skin, becomes disrupted and breaks down, leaving skin susceptible to cracking and irritation, which then leads to dry, itchy skin.
Everyone is at risk to develop winter itch, but the elderly are especially at risk. As we age, hormonal changes occur, resulting in a decrease in the natural oils that help keep skin healthy and hydrated. Therefore, this makes the skin more susceptible to the factors that contribute to winter itch. Individuals with pre-existing skin conditions, such as eczema, are also at increased risk to develop winer itch, due to an already faulty epidermal barrier.
The best treatment for winter itch is prevention, but sometimes that may not be enough. A short course of a prescription topical steroid medication, prescribed by your dermatologist, may be needed to help calm down the inflammation in the skin and ease the discomfort of severe winter itch.
The good news is that there are a few simple things you can do to keep skin moisturized and healthy during the winter months to avoid winter itch:
- Stick with short, lukewarm showers and avoid long, hot showers or baths
- Use a gentle soap or cleanser in order to avoid stripping away the skin’s natural oils, as some soaps do
- After showering, gently pat the skin dry, avoiding aggressive rubbing
- Within a few minutes of getting out of the shower, apply a generous layer of a thick moisturizing cream
- You can use a lighter moisturizer on your face, which will keep your face moisturized without clogging pores
- Also remember to keep your lips moisturized by applying a lip balm several times throughout the day, and avoid licking your lips
- Avoid heavily fragranced products and/or detergents, which can irritate dry, sensitive skin.