The chill air of winter is more than just a harbinger of the holidays and snowy days. It can also precipitate the dry, itchy skin some people get during the cold weather and often leads to flare- ups for people with concurrent skin problems like allergic eczema or psoriasis.
What Causes It?
Indoor heating dries the air. In winter people often take hotter baths and showers and stay in them longer to warm up.Many don’t drink enough fluids. When the air surrounding the skin is drier, water evaporates out more easily, drying the skin. Natural protective skin oil is dissolved and washed away by the use of strong soaps, such as antibacterial or deodorant soaps. Dry skin is more sensitive and easily irritated; it gets itchy, then scratching that itch can actually cause a rash.
What Do I Do?
It is better to wash only once every day or two in winter, and showering is preferred, as it is less drying than a tub bath. Use lukewarm, not hot water, and stay in for no longer than 10-15 minutes. After rinsing, apply a dye and fragrance free moisturizer such as Aquaphor or Vaseline all over your body while it’s still wet. Avoid moisturizers that contain alcohol, as they can actually dry the skin more. Recent studies have shown that people with eczema have less amounts of a lipid called Ceramide in their skin and replacing it in the correct proportion with a ceramide containing moisturizer helps relieve this condition.
How Can I Prevent It?
Re-apply your moisturizer repeatedly through the day to keep your skin from getting dry.Don’t overheat your environment. Use a humidifier or set out pans of water to moisten your air. Also drink extra water to humidify from the inside out. Avoid dehydration caused by drinking alcohol and by neglecting to replace fluids lost through sweating. Use a sunscreen cream on exposed areas if going out in the sun, even in winter. If your dry skin or rash isn’t better in a week or so, see your doctor.
What Else Could It Be?
What can be worse than winter itch? Having a severe skin disease. Eczema and psoriasis are severe skin conditions that get worse in the winter. Although eczema is more prevalent in children, it also affects 10 percent of the adult population. Eczema can be described as skin that is itchy, dry, scaly, red, crusty, inflamed and sometimes oozing.
There are three main forms of eczema:
1. Irritant Contact Dermatitis. People who fail to moisturize or wash their skin too frequently can easily irritate it. Skin becomes red and dry and anything including water and baby shampoo can distress it.
2. Atopic Dermatitis. This is an internal chronic inclination towards eczema and it tends to flare in the winter. This form usually starts in infancy and affects those who have a family history of allergies, asthma, or dry, sensitive skin. Many children grow out of it as they get older but it tends to flare up again when they are adults.
3. Allergic Contact Dermatitis. This form is less common and occurs after an allergic reaction to a substance such as rubber, nickel, lanolin or a fragrance. This type of allergy develops over time and your skin could develop an allergy to something that did not irritate it in the past.
Other less common forms of eczema include seborrhoeic eczema, which affects the scalp and eye-lashes as a severe form of dandruff; and discoid eczema, which causes circular patches of eczema over the body.
Allergy tests such as skin/ blood tests and/ or patch testing is available to identify possible triggers for various forms of eczema and to direct appropriate treatment.