Tricks for avoiding dry, itchy winter skin

If it’s dry and cold where you live, work or play, it’s winter skin season, but the fixes may not be as obvious as they seem.

Rather than bide your time until April, the Associated Press asked dermatologists for tips on seasonal care and protection to stave off itchy, flaky and cracked skin.

* Don’t take extra-hot showers. As much as you want the comfort of that heat when it’s chilly, there’s less moisture in the air during winter and hot showers can further dehydrate your skin, said Dr. Neil Sadick, clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College.

“Make showers as tepid as you can tolerate,” he said. If you can’t stand the chill, find a space heater safe for bathroom use.

Dr. Alicia Zalka, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale, put it this way: “Take shorter, fewer, cooler or soap-free showers.” (By soap free, she means stay away from products that contain detergents because they can remove protective, essential oils from the skin.)

* Don’t assume drinking water or replacing fluids internally is enough to keep your skin healthy during cold weather.

Dr. Zalka is all for drinking water to stay hydrated, but cautions that moisture from the extra fluids can evaporate if not trapped by the epidermis, the skin’s outer layer. Moisturizing is so important this time of year because it protects the outer layer from winter’s wrath while retaining natural moisture from within.

“If you’ve got the driest of dry skin, the best defense for that is a couple of days of plain old Vaseline, as a sealer and a protectant,” she said. “If the skin is already cracked, it does not sting.”

Remember that certain beverages are dehydrating, such as those containing alcohol or caffeine, so consume them in moderation, said Clinique dermatologist Dr. David Orentreich.

* Don’t necessarily stick to the same skin products for face and body. Dr. Orentreich said a skin-care regimen that worked during the warm, humid days of summer may not provide the same results in cold weather.

Change your cleanser from a strong to milder formulation, your exfoliator from strong to gentler and your moisturizer from light to richer, he suggested.

“Humidify the air in your home, especially in your bedroom, so that healing and repair can take place while you sleep,” Dr. Orentreich said.

* Don’t forget sunblock. It’s just as important during winter as it is in summer, experts say, especially during winter sports like skiing at high altitude.

“In the winter it feels cold because very little infrared light reaches the earth,” Dr. Orentreich said. “The opposite is true in the summer. However, in the winter, ultraviolet light is 90 percent as strong as it is in the summer but since we can’t feel or see it we mistakenly think it’s absent, too.”

Application of a broadband screen once a day should suffice, Dr. Sadick said.

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