This time of year can be tough on your skin. It's not just the dropping temperature that's to blame, but also the low levels of humidity, which rob your skin of moisture. But you don't have to suffer with a leathery complexion all season. Relieve your worst winter-skin woes with this no-sweat guide.
PROBLEM #1: Dry, flaky skin Dry skin gets worse in the winter―it's exacerbated by hot water, non-moisturizing soap and indoor heat.
TREAT IT: Switch soaps. "Buy soaps that are labeled 'mild' or 'for sensitive skin,' because they're free of skin-drying chemicals," says Diane Berson, MD, professor of dermatology at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. Moisturize properly. If your skin is slightly dry, look for a moisturizer that says "lotion" on the label. Use cream, baby oil or bath oil for very dry skin.
PREVENT IT: Use a humidifier. It adds moisture to the air, so your skin stays hydrated. Keep it running in the bedroom at night. Take cooler showers. Keep the water temperature lukewarm, not hot. Drink water. Have six to eight glasses a day and avoid coffee, soda and alcohol. Moisturize daily. After bathing, apply glycerin or shea butter lotion.
PROBLEM #2: Flaky scalp Your scalp can shed dead skin cells in large clumps (dandruff). The cause is unknown, but it may be from a yeast-like fungus on the scalp.
TREAT IT: Get a prescription lotion. Try a medicated shampoo. Besides preventing dandruff, an over-the-counter (OTC) dandruff shampoo may clear up your symptoms. If an OTC medicated dandruff shampoo doesn't help after a few weeks, see your dermatologist. "She can prescribe a steroid lotion or spray that can be rubbed into the scalp to decrease inflammation," says Dr. Berson.
PREVENT IT: Try a medicated shampoo. Use an over-the-counter shampoo containing pyrithione zinc or selenium sulfide. Let it sit in your hair for a few minutes before rinsing. Condition your hair. Follow with a conditioner that's labeled "protein-rich" to hydrate your hair. Turn off the hair dryer. The heat from the dryer can aggravate or lead to dandruff. Allow your hair to air-dry, or use a lower heat setting when you do blow-dry your hair.
PROBLEM #3: Eczema is an inflammation of the skin that flares up because of cold, dry weather, allergies and stress.
TREAT IT: Use an over-the-counter cream. "Apply a hydrocortisone cream or a cream that contains an antihistamine to reduce the itching and inflammation," says Dr. Berson. If that doesn't help, you may need a prescription steroid cream. Take an antihistamine. Over-the-counter antihistamines can relieve symptoms. For severe cases, try an antihistamine with a sedative.
PREVENT IT: Moisturize. See "Dry, flaky skin," above, for helpful tips. Avoid overheating. Sweating can lead to eczema flare-ups. If you're too hot, adjust the temperature. Relieve stress. Find ways to relax―take a walk, do yoga or read a book.
PROBLEM #4: Cracked hands and feet The hands and feet are common spots for cracked skin, a sign of extreme dryness.
TREAT IT: Wrap them up. Dip your hands and feet in lukewarm water, pat dry and moisturize with petroleum jelly. "Wrap hands and feet in plastic wrap, then put on a pair of thick cotton mittens and socks. Keep them on while you sleep," says Dr. Berson
PREVENT IT: Moisturize. See "Dry, flaky skin," above, for helpful tips. Apply an alpha-hydroxy cream. The acids in this product strip away dead skin cells, which are prone to cracking, and reveal new, fresher-looking skin cells, says John E. Wolf Jr., MD, chairman of the dermatology department at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Cover up. Wear gloves and thick socks outdoors to protect your skin from cold weather.
PROBLEM #4: Cold sores The herpes virus causes cold sores. They flare up in cold-weather months, possibly due to changes in your immune system.
TREAT IT: Let them heal. Cold sores tend to heal on their own within a week, so avoid picking at a blister. Use an over-the-counter cream. These antiviral creams and gels, like Abreva, can relieve the symptoms and may shorten the healing time. See your doc. If you're breaking out a few times a year, get a prescription for an antiviral drug. It may shorten the duration of outbreaks, says Dr. Wolf.
PREVENT IT: Wear lip balm with sunscreen. Since sunlight triggers cold sores, use a lip balm that has an SPF 15 or a hydrating lipstick that contains sunscreen, advises Dr. Wolf. Your lips will stay moist and soft, too.
Written by ― Amy Capetta