Caring for your skin during winter
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution December 27, 2022
While summer months require you to protect your skin with layers of sunscreen, you’re not out of the woods when winter arrives. As the air turns from hot and humid to cold and dry, skin can quickly lose moisture.
“Dry skin is one of the most common skin issues that arise in winter,” Dr. Elizabeth Richwine, board-certified dermatologist at Marietta Dermatology & The Skin Cancer Center in Marietta, Ga., told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Running your heater to keep warm also plays a part in taking moisture out of your skin, potentially causing it to become dry, itchy and flaky. For older adults, additional factors can make skin more susceptible to drying out in winter.
“As people age their skin loses collagen and becomes thinner and more prone to damage,” said Dr. Sivan Ben-Moshe, assistant professor of medicine in the Emory University Department of Medicine, Division of General Medicine and Geriatrics, in Atlanta.
When skin is too dry and thin, it’s more vulnerable to cracking and bleeding. Many people over 55 are also on medications that can dry out the skin, or have a pre-existing skin condition that the cold weather exacerbates. Eczema and psoriasis, for example, can flare up when your skin dries out. Since the conditions that cause dry skin are somewhat unavoidable, the best approach is to remember to appropriately care for your skin. Even before applying topical products, it’s best to remember to hydrate.
“Drinking enough fluids will keep your skin hydrated,” Ben-Moshe said.
Building on the idea of hydration, Richwine suggested you use a humidifier during the winter to put the moisture back into the air your heater is pulling out. To help keep your skin hydrated longer, use mild soaps and moisturizers without a heavy scent.
“Heavily-scented products can increase skin dryness and irritation due to the perfumes used in them,” Richwine said.
All the added chemicals and perfumes in heavily-scented products can cause allergic reactions, Ben-Moshe said. This can cause even more irritation for delicate skin. In the winter especially, look for a thicker moisturizer to combat the dry air. A heavy cream or ointment may work better than your daily body lotion. Once you find a product that works best for you, when you apply it also matters. Since soap and water can wipe away the natural oils in your skin, using a moisturizer while you’re still damp from a bath or shower can be beneficial, as long as you rub it in well.
Speaking of showers, Richwine suggested you swap a hot, steamy shower for a warm one during the winter months. The hot water itself can also contribute to skin dryness. It’s also important to not ignore your skin when you leave the house. The cold air is damaging as well and can dry you out.
“Protect your skin from the elements by wearing gloves, scarves and protective clothing if out in the cold,” Richwine said.
Additionally, try not to remain in the cold for too long.
“Our bodies aren’t good at self-regulating temperatures as we age, and people may not realize they’re becoming hypothermic,” Ben-Moshe said.
Winter also brings about an increase in hand washing as the flu and other viruses become more prevalent. This puts the skin on your hands especially at risk of drying out. Even using sanitizer can lead to dry skin.
“In the winter, we often see cracking of the skin on the hands, which is both painful and can become an entryway for infection,” Richwine said.
This is why moisturizing is so important.
But skin care for those over 55 shouldn’t only happen in the winter. Dr. Richwine suggested getting yearly skin checks with a dermatologist to check not only for skin conditions but skin cancer as well.
According to Ben-Moshe, sunscreen can also play a year-round role in keeping skin healthy.
“Wearing sunscreen or UV protective clothing year-round will help protect your skin’s natural components and decrease your risk of skin cancer,” Ben-Moshe said.
Keeping skin healthy is important because it plays an important role in overall health.
“The skin is the body’s largest organ ... it is our barrier against the outside world. It keeps hydration in and defends us from invasion by harmful bacteria, fungi and toxins,” Richwine said.
When skin dries and cracks, the risk of infections, such as cellulitis, increases. Being aware of the condition of your skin can also help you catch other abnormalities early.
“If you have swelling, redness and pain in a localized area, your skin may be infected,” Ben-Moshe says.