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8 Ways to Prevent Itchy, Dry Winter Skin

Jan 18, 2022 By Ashley Abramson
Close up of woman rubbing lotion on her hands

The winter months bring with them lots of joy and tradition, but one thing you may not love about this time of year is its effects on your body. The combination of cold weather and indoor heating can wreak havoc on your skin, leaving it dry, itchy, tight, red, and generally uncomfortable.

Here’s how it works: In the summer, high temps make your skin produce more oil, which leaves you feeling more moisturized. As the outdoor temperature decreases, your skin moisture does as well. When you turn your heat on inside, you’re exposed to even more dryness, which can leave your skin feeling stressed and irritated.

While you can’t necessarily change the frigid climate, you can take some simple-yet-effective steps to protect your skin this time of year. Here are eight ways you can keep your skin soft and healthy this winter—no matter how cold it gets.

1. Moisturize more frequently

In the dry, winter air, it’s especially important to stay on top of moisturizing — but not just any lotion will cut it this time of year. Even if you don’t have a full-blown skincare routine, make a habit of applying a fragrance-free petroleum or cream-based moisturizer to your face and body each day, ideally right after bathing. Moisturizing when your skin is still wet — a method known as “soak and seal” — traps the moisture on the surface of your skin, which can make your skin feel softer.

And because you may be washing your hands far more than normal this time of year to prevent the spread of germs, make a routine of applying a thick, emollient moisturizer to your hands (it helps to keep your moisturizer near your sink).

2. Turn the thermostat down

If it’s cold outside, you may find yourself cranking up the thermostat. Before you turn it up too high, keep in mind central heat can make your home even dryer (not to mention hike up your utility bill). To maintain healthy skin, try to keep your home between 67°F to 72°F.

3. Use a humidifier

Winter air is less humid, which causes indoor humidity levels to drop as well. If your furnace has a built-in humidifier, you may want to tweak the settings in the winter months. Aim for about 30-50% humidity, and lower it if you see condensation accumulating on your windows.

A store-bought humidifier can also help to protect your skin from the effects of cold air. Whether you’ve got an ultrasonic humidifier or a steam vaporizer running in your home, make sure you maintain it to avoid mold and bacteria. Change your humidifier water daily, and clean the reservoir at least once a week.

4. Skip the long, hot shower

A hot shower might sound appealing in sub-zero temperatures, but hot water can irritate dry skin. According to the Baylor College of Medicine, hot water can actually strip your skin’s natural oils. Instead, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends a 5-10 minute lukewarm shower or bath. After you get out of the shower, pat yourself dry—rubbing too hard with a towel can be irritating to already-irritated skin—and apply a lubricating moisturizer while your skin’s still slightly wet.

5. Choose gentle soaps

It’s generally best to use less soap in winter, but when you do wash up, be mindful about the products you use. Detergent-based soaps, like regular bar soaps, often contain synthetic fragrances and irritating ingredients that can worsen skin irritation. Aim for a gentle cleanser that’s labeled “fragrance-free” or labeled for sensitive or dry skin.

6. Use an occlusive

Thick, emollient-style moisturizers do a better job moisturizing than thin lotions. But if you find your moisturizer isn’t cutting it, you may benefit from an occlusive—an ingredient that prevents future moisture loss by locking moisturizer into your skin and creating a physical barrier that protects you from the elements. Common occlusives are shea butter, cocoa butter, rosehip oil, castor oil, and jojoba oil. You can also use petroleum-jelly based products such as Aquaphor or Vaseline. Try applying any of these occlusive products to your skin after you moisturize.

7. Protect your skin outdoors

If you’re going outside into cold or windy weather for more than a few minutes, you’ll need to protect your skin. Dry, cold air can quickly chap your skin, and if it’s too cold, you could experience frostbite. So if you’re shoveling or going for a winter walk, put on a good pair of gloves—and if you’ll be outside longer, you may want to cover your face with a mask or wear a gaiter. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen before heading outdoors, too! Your skin is vulnerable to damage from the sun even when it’s not warm outside. We recommend applying a sunscreen SPF 30 or higher each day.

8. Drink more water

Staying hydrated is an important part of your overall health — and it can also help keep your skin soft and healthy. Dehydration can quickly zap your skin’s glow and make you more vulnerable to dryness on your face and body. While some people suggest drinking half your weight in ounces of water per day, the best practice is to continually sip on a glass or bottle of water throughout the day. Be mindful, of how much alcohol you’re drinking, since alcohol is dehydrating. If your urine is clear or close to it, you’re probably amply hydrated.

Experiencing a skin concern or dry skin that won’t let up? Then it may be time to book an appointment with your primary care provide, who can help you keep your skin in tip-top shape through the winter months and beyond.

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Ashley Abramson

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. 1Life Healthcare, Inc. and the One Medical entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.