|Cold conditions in winter cause skin problems. Harsh winds, low humidity, dry indoor air and even cold-weather sunburn can cause an array of skin problems. Most doctors recommend that protecting the skin from exposure, staying hydrated and moisturizing will take care of most problems. Some skin conditions demand more serious attention.
Dry skin, known to dermatologists as xerosis or asteatosis, is the most common winter skin problem. The skin feels rough and appears dull. The skin may flake off. Any lines in the skin may become more visible, and sometimes fine, web-like cracks will occur. Dry skin generally occurs on the feet, knees, hands and elbows. It can be found on other parts of the body as well. Dry skin causes a range of symptoms, though itchiness is the most common. Painful cracks (fissures) and bleeding are possible. The skin may become red and inflamed. Round, scaly, itchy red patches, known as nummular eczema, appear in more severe cases. Crusty yellow patches or pus means that a bacterial infection has developed.
Healthy, normal skin consists of several layers of cells. The deeper layers consist of young cells; the thin outer layer, the stratum corneum, is made of dead sink cells suspended in natural body oils and water. Unfortunately, in winter, the oil and water of the stratum corneum are often interrupted for a variety of reasons, and the outer layer of skin can not perform properly as a protective barrier. Extra measures must be taken to protect the stratum corneum.
Skin requires healthy fats to build a moisture-retaining oil barrier. Omega-3 and other essential fatty acids will provide the right kind of oil. Omega-3 is found in cold water fish (herring, halibut, mackerel, salmon, sardines and tuna), nuts (walnuts) and some plant-based oils (safflower oil and flaxseed oil). Drinking water regularly will also help skin. A minimum of six to eight glasses is significant. At the same time, reduce consumption of foods that are dehydrating, such as coffee and cola.
Dry air is a cause of winter skin problems, because water on the skin surface evaorapes into the atmosphere and does not protect the skin. Electric heat is a particular cause. In some cases, a humidifier is needed to increase moisture in the air. Ideally, moisture in the air should be kept between 40 percent and 50 percent, which can be tracked by the use of a hygrometer.
Skin is often protected by layers of clothing from exposure to the elements in winter. However, sunblock with an SPF of 15 or greater on any exposed skin is necessary against the sun. Although the days are shorter, the sun's rays are closer to Earth and more intense. This can cause sunburn and age skin. Furthermore, the sun's rays bounce back 80 percent off snow (compared with 20 percent off the sand and sea). Skin should also be coated with moisturizers, especially those containing glycerin, mineral oil or petroleum jelly (also known as petrolatum). Avoid products using laurel sulfate, which can be an irritant. Thick, greasy moisturizers tend to stay on the skin longer. Reapply as often as necessary, a minimum of three times daily. Some types of winter clothing, such as wool, can irritate skin as well. Put a protective cotton or silk layer between the body and any irritating fabrics.
Long, hot showers are damaging to the skin. Keep showers short and lukewarm. Do not use soap. After showering, towel dry gently by patting down the skin. Do not scrub or rub the body. One should not exfoliate irritated or raw skin. However, the cleaner the skin, the deeper the moisturizers penetrate. Keratolytic moisturizers containing lactic or salicylic acid are effective in removing dead skin cells. Be certain to exfoliate gently. Remove wet clothing immediately, as the combination of water and salt will irritate skin.
If you're using an over-the-counter product or treatment--including lotions and moisturizers-- and you experience extra redness or itchiness or indication of an allergic reaction, discontinue use immediately. Some skin problems require a prescription cortisol (topical steroid) for treatment. A number of skin problems are due to medical conditions and require the attention of a dermatologist. The most common medical conditions that cause skin problems include genetic causes, hormonal imbalances (especially hypothyroid), contact dermatitis, allergies (including reactions to prescription medication) and exposure to irritating substances. The doctor will prescribe an appropriate skin care regimen to treat the problem.