Woman looking in mirror, examining skin.

While it’s likely that your skin suffers in winter, you may be surprised about the causes—and remedies. 

“Ultimately, winter skin care is all about moisture,” says Cherry Chau, MD, family and primary care physician at Memorial Hermann Medical Group (MHMG) Southwest.

“Harsh, cold weather and indoor heat both lead to low humidity, and that causes the skin to dry out and lose its defense barriers.” 

Dr. Chau shares tips on how to keep your skin looking and feeling its best during the winter months.  

Keep baths and showers short. 

One would think a long shower or a relaxing bath would replenish your skin’s moisture. But a bath or hot shower may actually dry out your skin.

“Hot water removes the natural protective oils of the skin that otherwise would lock in moisture,” Dr. Chau says. “The longer you remain in hot water, the drier your skin becomes.” 

Limit showers or baths to 5 to10 minutes and use warm water rather than hot water. 

“Ideally you should apply moisturizer while your skin is still damp to lock in as much water as possible after showering, bathing or washing your hands or face,” she says. “Also keep your bathroom door closed so the steam helps plump your skin.” 

Use sunscreen year-round.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s cold or overcast. The sun emits the same amount of UVA (ultraviolet A) rays all year long,” Dr. Chau says. “They penetrate the skin, causing wrinkles, sunspots and even cancer regardless of what the weather looks like.” 

But UVA and UVB (ultraviolet B) rays can be made worse in winter by bouncing off snow and ice to further injure your skin.    

Good moisturizer is all about the ingredients. 

The ingredients and formula in moisturizing products matter most—not the price. “There are plenty of products in the $10 to$15 range that do the trick—and will last all winter,” Dr. Chau says.

During the cooler months, choose creams or ointments versus lightweight serums or lotions.  

“Seek occlusive ingredients such as petrolatum or lanolin, which create a physical barrier to seal in moisture,” says Dr. Chau. 

Simplify your skin care routine.

Strip your skincare of these barrier-stripping ingredients if you have dry skin this winter: alcohol, retinoids, fragrances and exfoliants such as alpha hydroxy acids.  

“It’s tempting to exfoliate your dry and flaky skin, but you should be moisturizing instead,” says Dr. Chau. 

Natural ingredients may be irritating your skin. 

“Organic ingredients like lavender, citrus or tea tree oil commonly trigger skin flare-ups,” Dr. Chau says. “People think organic is better, but poison ivy is organic.” 

Look for moisturizers to replenish your skin barrier, including glycerin, hyaluronic acid, urea, ceramides, plant or mineral oils and shea butter. “These draw water to your skin to help repair your skin barrier,” says Dr. Chau.

Licking chapped lips only makes them drier. 

“Saliva can be irritating and drying to the skin. Going from wet to dry and wet to dry causes irritation. The saliva evaporates and leaves your lips drier than before.” 

Throughout the day use lip balm that’s ideally fragrance- and dye-free as both can irritate lips.  

Also avoid menthol, camphor, peppermint and other essential oils since these can sting and burn lips. 

“Try using petrolatum on your lips at night to form a protective layer while you sleep,” Dr. Chau says.   

Winter rashes and summer rashes have different causes. 

Winter rashes tend to be caused by dry skin. They’re normally itchier and flakier than summer rashes, which tend to be caused by sweat, sun and pool chemicals. 

“Dermatitis, however, can occur year-round when your skin comes into contact with something that irritates it. That may be harsh hand soaps or bleach. In winter, dermatitis can be made worse by cold wind or indoor heating which dries the skin,” Dr. Chau says. 

You may have eczema or psoriasis. 

Raised, thick reddish patches with whitish scales may be psoriasis, an autoimmune disease. Psoriasis also can affect joints, with stiffness and pain most commonly in the fingers or back.

Painful, cracked bleeding or stinging patches may be a skin condition called eczema. It has immune and genetic components as well, but it’s not autoimmune. 

If you are concerned you may have psoriasis, eczema or any skin irritation, visit your primary care physician or dermatologist.

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