Winter Xerosis


Winter brings with it a picturesque snowy landscape and cozy moments by the fireplace, but for many, it also means dealing with the discomfort of dry skin. The drop in temperature and humidity during this season can strip the skin of its natural moisture, leading to issues like itching, flakiness, and redness. This seasonal affliction, often referred to as xerosis, is a common skin woe caused by a combination of environmental factors and lifestyle choices. Understanding the triggers and implementing effective treatments can help you maintain healthy skin throughout the winter months.

Triggers of Winter Dry Skin:

  • Low Humidity:
    • Cause: Cold air holds less moisture than warm air. Heating systems further reduce indoor humidity, leading to dry skin.
    • Solution: Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home. Aim for a humidity level between 30-50%.
  • Hot Showers:
    • Cause: Hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils, exacerbating dryness.
    • Solution: Opt for lukewarm showers and limit their duration. Pat skin dry with a towel, do not rub! Apply a moisturizer immediately after bathing.
  • Harsh Cleansers:
    • Cause: Some soaps and cleansers can be too harsh, removing the skin's protective oils.
    • Solution: Choose mild, fragrance-free cleansers. Consider using soap-free and moisturizing body washes.
  • Winter Wind:
    • Cause: Cold, windy weather can accelerate moisture loss from the skin's surface.
    • Solution: Shield your skin from the wind by wearing a scarf and using protective creams or ointments.

Effective Treatments for Winter Dry Skin:

  • Hydration from Within:
    • Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated from the inside out.
  • Moisturize Regularly:
    • Use a rich, emollient moisturizer with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or ceramides. Apply moisturizing cream soon after washing to lock in moisture and throughout the day as needed. Consider using products with occlusive agents like petrolatum or dimethicone. These create a protective barrier on the skin, preventing moisture loss and are best applied when skin is slightly damp.
  • Protective Clothing:
    • Wear layers to protect your skin from cold winds and invest in gloves, scarves, and hats to minimize exposure.
  • Gentle Cleansing:
    • Opt for mild, hydrating cleansers. Avoid products with alcohol, as they can be drying. Limit cleansing to areas where it’s needed most like underarms, feet, etcetera. 
  • Humidify Your Home:
    • Use a humidifier to maintain an optimal indoor humidity level, preventing excessive drying of the skin.
  • UV Protection:
    • Even in winter, protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen.

Remember, everyone's skin is unique, so it may take some experimentation to find the combination of treatments that work best for you. By understanding the triggers and adopting a winter-friendly skincare routine, you can keep your skin healthy and comfortable all season long. If dry skin persists or worsens, consult the Christie Clinic Department of Dermatology, where we can provide personalized advice and treatment plans.

- Ellen Flora, MPH, PA-C