The Winter Itch

ItchyskinpicSeasonal itchiness is common when the cold, dry winter air takes moisture away from your skin.  The top layer of skin is made up of dead skin cells embedded in a mix of natural oils.  The oils in this skin layer help keep water inside the body and prevent irritants and germs from entering.  The dead cells and skin oils lock some water into the top layer, which keeps the skin soft and smooth. Cold, dry air can damage the top skin layer, allowing water in the skin to escape and cause small cracks that expose underlying cells to irritants and germs. This irritation may cause nerves in the skin to send “itch” signals to the brain.

Weather-related itching may be accompanied by other dry skin symptoms, such as dullness, flakiness, roughness and more visible fine lines. Fortunately, weather-related dry skin isn’t usually serious and is easily treated.

Some products from your local stores can help, such as:

  • Moisturizers: In the winter, the best types of moisturizers to use are the ones that are oil-based rather than water-based. These are thicker and create a protective layer on the skin that will retain moisture in your skin for longer periods of time.
  • Sunscreen: Despite the cold temperatures, you can still get sunburned during the winter, which will make your skin even drier. When you plan to be outside, apply sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 about 30 minutes before going out.  If you are out for longer periods of time reapply the sunscreen every couple of hours.
  • Gloves: Your hands are one part of your body that is exposed to the cold more often, so protect them whenever you can by wearing warm gloves.
  • Humidifier: Using a humidifier adds moisture to the air, which can help counteract the effects of using heat in your home or office. Place the humidifier in rooms where you spend most of your time to get the best results.
  • Oatmeal: Take an oatmeal bath to soothe the itching. In addition to taking these soothing baths, refrain from taking very hot baths and showers in the winter. Instead use warm water and try not to stay in the bath or the shower for too long.

If the itchiness you are experiencing becomes severe or the skin begins to peel or crack significantly, you may have a skin disorder in addition to the typical dryness that occurs during colder months and should consult your physician.

If you itchy skin has become red and cracked, you may want to make an appointment with the Jamaica Hospital Medical Center’s Ambulatory Care Center.  It is centrally located and has convenient hours.  Call 718-670-XXXXfor an appointment.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.