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5 hacks to rescue dry skin from winter's harsh effects

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer

Harsh wintry conditions can wreak havoc on the skin, stripping it of its natural moisture and leaving it feeling parched, tight and sometimes itchy.

“Our skin’s barrier is assaulted by the cold, dry air outside and the dry, heated air indoors,” New York-based dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe told AccuWeather.

“This combination can exacerbate many skin conditions, [including breakouts, rosacea flares, psoriasis, eczema and skin sensitivity],” Bowe said.


Signs of winter skin include rash, redness, chapped lips, flakiness and tiny, itchy bumps.

To combat the effects of winter on your body’s largest organ, experts recommend the following tips.

1. Moisturize

Cold weather can be very damaging to the skin, and during winter, the skin requires two types of moisturizers, according to dermatologist and RealSelf contributor Dr. Michele Green.

Your skin needs a moisturizer that acts as a barrier on the skin to prevent moisture loss,” Green said. “[It] also needs a moisturizer that keeps your cells hydrated.”

Ingredients in moisturizers are usually divided into categories that include occlusive agents and humectants.

“Occlusive [agents] are ingredients that coat the skin’s surface to prevent water from evaporating, similar to plastic wrap,” said Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, board-certified dermatologist and clinical attending at NYU Langone and Mount Sinai Hospital.

SEE ALSO: 5 tips to help prevent dry skin this winter

Examples of occlusive agents include petrolatum, oils, lanolin and silicone.

“Humectants are ingredients that bind water and draw water into themselves and onto the [skin’s surface, plumping the skin],” Levin said.

Common humectants are glycerin, propylene glycol, urea and hyaluronic acid.

Green added that applying an oil-based humectant moisturizer while the skin is still damp will help lock in moisture.

Experts suggested moisturizing your skin at least twice daily to prevent dryness and cracking.

“You should always follow your cleansing step with moisturizing, ideally within five minutes to really trap that moisture into the skin,” Bowe said.

Bowe recommended the quickly absorbing La Roche-Posay’s Lipikar AP+ Body Lotion for hydrating and nourishing dry skin in winter.

Dermalogica’s Barrier Defense Booster and Calm Water Gel are good options for replenishing moisture in the face and neck, according to Levin.

2. Get a humidifier

Home heating tends to dry out the skin, and using a humidifier will help prevent dryness that can lead to excessive winter itch.

Experts recommend avoiding sitting in front of heating vents or fireplaces for prolonged periods, which can zap moisture from your skin.

If you have eczema, overheating and sweating will only make things worse, experts say.

Humidifiers can also alleviate eczema symptoms as well as cracked lips and dry eyes or nasal passages.

3. Use milk

If you find that the harsh weather conditions irritate your face, milk’s anti-inflammatory properties can offer soothing benefits to dry, itchy skin.

Dr. Green recommended pouring whole milk into a bowl, allowing it to sit at room temperature.

Next, soak a washcloth in the bowl and apply the cloth to your face, holding it there for 15-minute intervals.

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“After the compresses, apply prescription cortisone cream to the affected area without washing off the milk, and repeat the treatment two to three times a day,” Green said.

4. Skip the hot showers

A nice, steamy shower may feel great after spending time in the cold weather outside, but the higher temperatures can exacerbate your skin’s dryness, which could lead to long-term damaging effects, according to the Baylor College of Medicine.

Overly hot showers can result in inflamed, red, itchy and even peeling skin.

“Limit your bath or shower time to 5 or 10 minutes with lukewarm water rather than hot water,” Levin suggested.

Moisturizing or creamy body washes are also recommended to add additional moisture to the skin.

5. Exfoliate

Experts recommend using a gentle exfoliating product about once or twice per week during winter.

Doing so will rid the skin of its dead, dry and flaky top layer, bringing healthier layers to the forefront, said Roberta Perry, founder of ScrubzBody Skincare.

“Think of your skin as a canvas,” Perry said. “The smoother the surface, the easier everything will go on [that surface].”

Exfoliating also helps your moisturizers better sink into your skin.

How can you stay healthy this winter season? Tune in to find out! Join host Regina Miller and her guest Dr. Anthony Ng, Senior Physician Executive at Northern Light Acadia Hospital and Chief of Psychiatry at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center as they discuss Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons. Also, Staff Education Coordinator for Centre LifeLink EMS, Frank Cianfrani discusses cardiac and respiratory care as it relates to winter activities and provides suggestions on how to stay safe this winter.

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit

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