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Ditch the itch: Keep your skin healthy this winter

The cold, dark days of winter may be getting under your skin, but the season can also take a toll on its surface. Without proper care, skin can become itchy, flakey, red or worse.

Don't let winter leave you or your little ones feeling prickly and irritated. Some simple steps will help keep you comfortable in your skin throughout the season and beyond.

How does winter weather affect skin?

Natural oils in the skin provide a barrier of protection and hydration. But skin is sensitive, and it doesn't take kindly to rapid fluctuations in the weather. Even if you have healthy skin the rest of year, you may not be immune from irritation during winter months. As temperatures and humidity drop, your skin works harder to maintain adequate hydration.  

Don't pin all the blame on the cold. The adjustments we make during winter months to up our comfort level can strip away the skin's natural oils. Indoor heat, hot water and diet are among the culprits.

What are the most common winter skin conditions?

Winter can bring on new skin issues or cause flare-ups of existing problems. Here are some of the most common conditions that arise or get worse when winter is in the air:

  • Acne. While often associated with excess oil production, dry skin is also a potential trigger of acne. 
  • Winter rash. This temporary condition is caused by dry skin and can appear on one part of the body—most often the hands, arms and face—or be widespread. Symptoms of winter rashes may include:
    • Redness 
    • Rough and/or scaly skin
    • Bumps or blisters
    • Cracks
    • Itching
    • Swelling
    • Increased skin sensitivity
  • Contact dermatitis. Skin becomes more sensitive during winter months. Products that come into contact with your skin, such as soaps, detergents and skin care products that contain harsh chemicals and fragrances, can irritate sensitive skin. Even the skincare regimen you normally follow may cause dry skin and rashes.
  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis). Described broadly as dry, rashy and itchy skin, eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder that is most often seen in infants or very young children. Many outgrow the condition, although it can last into adolescence and or adulthood. Eczema most often occurs on the face, hands, elbows and knees. The American Academy of Dermatology Association provides information and resources to better understand the condition.
  • Psoriasis. This common condition causes skin cells to multiple up to 10 times faster than normal. As cells reach the skin's surface, they produce raised, itchy and scaly patches that most often appear on the knees, elbow and scalp. There is no cure for psoriasis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers helpful information about symptoms, causes and treatment.
  • Rosacea. This long-term condition causes redness and visible blood vessels on the face. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, more than 14 million people live with rosacea. It's most prevalent among individuals 30 to 50 years of age. The cause of rosacea has medical experts flummoxed, but cold weather is a trigger for many sufferers.

How can I keep my skin healthy during winter?

While you can't control the weather, there are steps you can take to keep your skin in top shape this winter.

  • Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Anytime you wash your face, body or hands, you strip the skin of its natural oils. Because those oils lock in moisture, you'll want to replace them. Finding the right product can take some experimenting. Humectants (urea, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, propylene glycol) are oil-free and absorb water into the air. Emollients (baby or mineral oil, plant oils, petroleum jelly, lanolin) help replace oils in the skin. Many moisturizers contain a combo of both. If you're prone to breakouts, avoid petroleum or oil-based products. Some anti-aging formulas contain retinoids, which can irritate dry, sensitive skin.  
  • Layer up, comfy style. What you put next to your skin matters. Skip the heavy parka and dress yourself and your child in layers. Open or remove jackets as necessary to avoid sweating. Avoid wool and other fabrics that can cause skin irritation.
  • Use a humidifier. This is a great way to put depleted moisture back in the air and help rehydrate dry skin. Set your unit at around 60%.
  • Turn down heat exposure. Indoor heat does more than warm your bones. It also zaps moisture from the air and your skin. Resist the temptation to crank up the thermostat or sit in front of the fire.
  • Shelve the hot showers. A long, hot shower might take off winter's chill, but it's not good for your skin. (Same goes for saunas, hot tubs and Jacuzzis.) Limit shower and bath time to 5-10 minutes and opt for lukewarm water when possible. After bathing, showering or washing hands, pat or blot skin dry.
  • Go for gentle. Choose skincare and other household products that will be kind to your skin. Try gentle, fragrance-free soap or cleanser and deodorants and wash clothes in hypoallergenic laundry detergent.
  • Slather on the sun screen. It's just as important to apply sunscreen in the winter as it is in the summer. Whether you're hitting the slopes or out for a winter stroll, use a sun screen with an SPF of 30 or higher before you head outdoors. And don't let those gray skies fool you. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, up to 80% of UV rays can get through clouds and cause damage.
  • Eat right. Comfort food may be good for the soul, especially during winter months, but a diet high in carbs can lead to dryness and inflammation. Instead, reach for more citrus, vegetables, seafood, nuts, and seeds (plus plenty of water). It's a great way to banish dry skin and boost your overall health—all year-round.
  • Over-the-counter remedies. There are several nonprescription treatments that can help reduce skin redness, itching, and inflammation. You should talk to your doctor or an Indigo Urgent Care provider to find out what's best for your specific rash or skin condition.


Indigo Urgent Care can treat your winter skin issues 

If you're struggling to ease skin discomfort, don't hide behind your turtleneck. Visit your nearby Indigo Urgent Care location. We're here to treat most minor illnesses and injuries, including common skin conditions. A provider will assess your symptoms and provide a care plan and prescription, if necessary. 

You can also choose an e-visit or video visit with an Indigo Online Care provider.

If you're experiencing any of the following symptoms, you're better off heading to your nearest emergency department if you have a skin rash that:

  • Covers your body.
  • Is accompanied by a high fever.
  • Is sudden and spreads rapidly.
  • Occurs as a reaction to medication and breathing becomes difficult.
  • Has blisters.
  • Affects the skin around your eyes, multiple areas in your mouth or your genitals.
  • Becomes increasingly painful.
  • Is itchy and warm to the touch and has yellow or green fluid, swelling, crusting and pain, or a red streak.

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