Winter, characterized by cold winds and low humidity, is a nightmare for beautiful skin whether you have eczema, psoriasis, or seborrheic dermatitis. Ella L. Toombs, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and director of Aesthetic Dermatology of Dupont Circle, in Washington, D.C, says that it is a vicious circle. The cold and dry air pulls the moisture from the skin, which tends to peel and crack excessively. When there is increased loss of skin cells, it leads to more loss of oil and water from the skin. This results in dry skin. The hot air from the indoor heating system also contributes considerably to the formation of dry skin.
Toombs feels that going to a warm tropical climate during winter helps to make the skin feel smooth and better. This is because the humidity in the atmosphere maintains the natural oils in the skin making the skin soft. According to Bruce Katz, MD, a private practice dermatologist and director of the JUVA Skin and Laser Center in New York City, winter weather makes the condition worse for those who already have skin problems like eczema, psoriasis, rosacea or dandruff. The skin protection strategies are generally applicable to everyone, including those who have skin conditions like the ones mentioned above.
“Eczema is due to extreme sensitivity of the skin which appears as rash," says Katz. People with this skin condition should avoid wool clothes or heavy synthetic fabrics, as they can cause extreme irritation due to too much friction. “Always opt for a cotton layer just above the skin to protect against friction, and cover up and avoid the wind and cold," says Katz.
Psoriasis is characterized by overproduction of new skin cells which forms patches and plaques, says Thomas Russell, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. As the humidity is less during winter the skin finds it hard to retain moisturizer, leading to tiny cracks on the surface. To maintain the structure of the skin apply moisturizer and avoid having long hot water baths. Most people, especially elderly need to take a bath only once a week and limit the use of soap to those regions where it perspires. Use warm water instead of hot water and avoid using wash cloth as it is too rough for the skin.
Russell warns that people with psoriasis should be careful about strep throat infection as it is very common in winter months. Strep infections cause psoriasis to flare up and hence it is better to see the doctor immediately when any of the symptoms appear.
Seborrheic dermatitis or severe dandruff also flares up during cold, dry conditions. In this condition one cannot continuously shampoo the skin because of the dryness, but you also need to apply the medications which are available in the form of shampoo. It is better to visit a dermatologist when the condition worsens in winter.
One can control dry skin by allowing the moisture to retain in the skin. “Avoid rubbing the skin after a shower, pat dry the skin gently," says Toombs. Apply a moisturizer or a quality cream immediately after patting dry the skin to trap the moisture. According to her, fingernails and cuticles also should be moisturized, as they break more easily in winter due to dryness.