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What wintertime does to your skin, and how to protect it

Cheerful couple with trekking sticks looking at camera while strolling in winter forest covered with snow.

Walking in a winter wonderland and cozying up by the fire may bring some enjoyable memories — but it can also bring dry, itchy, and irritated skin. Cold air lacks humidity, and turning the heat on indoors can dry out the air even more. This dry environment can draw the moisture out of your skin and cause plenty of uncomfortable skin conditions. Here’s what you need to know to protect your skin so you can still enjoy the winter season.

Common winter skin conditions

Eczema

Eczema causes dry and itchy patches of skin and can occur at any time, though cold weather and low humidity is often a trigger. Eczema rashes can show up anywhere on your body but usually appear on the hands, elbows, ankles, knees, neck, and face. This common condition affects more than 31 million Americans and often starts when people are babies.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis causes scaly and inflamed patches of skin due to an overactive immune system. Psoriasis patches usually occur on the scalp, elbows, and knees. This condition will often cycle, meaning symptoms show up for a few weeks or months and then subside for a similar length of time. Dry weather can worsen psoriasis symptoms. It’s estimated that this condition affects around 8 million Americans.

Dry skin and chapped lips

You’re probably already familiar with the uncomfortable feeling of dry skin and chapped lips. Sometimes our skin barrier is simply no match for the cold weather. Many people find their hands are one of the first places on their bodies to get dry, likely from regular handwashing. You may also experience chapped lips more often during the winter, since the skin on our lips is thinner and more sensitive than the rest of our skin.

Windburn

Similar to sunburn, windburn causes red, irritated skin and a burning sensation. Winter wind can draw out even more moisture from your skin than the cold, dry weather alone. This may also leave your skin more vulnerable to sunburn as ice and snow can reflect UV rays. You may be more susceptible to windburn if you already have a skin condition like eczema or psoriasis.

How to care for your skin in the winter

Change your routine to fit the season

As the weather changes, it’s important to reflect on your skincare routine and consider what products may need to replace ones you use when temperatures are warmer. It’s generally recommended to use heavier lotions and creams than you would in the summer to defend your skin from winter conditions.

Protect your skin with barriers

In addition to heavier moisturizers, consider using products with a petroleum jelly base to create a barrier between your skin and the dry air. Gloves, hats, and scarves are also a great (and fashionable!) way to protect your skin from harsh wind and cold air. Don’t forget to continue using sunscreen daily just like you would in the summertime to protect your skin from harmful reflected UV rays.

See your primary care provider

Despite taking good care of your skin, you may need to talk to your primary care provider (PCP) or dermatologist for more help with certain conditions. For example, heavy lotions may help dry skin, chapped lips, and windburn, but you may need prescription ointments or medications to control psoriasis and eczema. Schedule an appointment with your PCP if you have dry, itchy, or irritated skin that doesn’t improve or gets worse over time.

And be sure to keep an extra hat, scarf, and pair of gloves in your bag or car in case you run out of the house and forget to bring them with you!

AmeriHealth Team

The AmeriHealth Team is here to provide well-being tips and health insurance education to help you be your healthiest.