How Can I Treat Dry Winter Skin?

Q: My son has dry skin now in the winter. What can I do to help him?

A: Dry skin is a very common problem and can occur at any age. Dry skin tends to be worse in the winter months when there is less humidity in the air. The humidity level is also further reduced in northern climates by simply heating our homes.  Consequently, dry skin in Wisconsin in the winter months is a very common concern.

Dry skin can be a minor nuisance or it can lead to more severe itching, cracking, fissuring or inflammation of the skin. It is important to keep the skin hydrated and to avoid triggers that worsen the problem. For dry skin, routinely use skin moisturizers, daily or even multiple times per day. The creams should be thick and have low water content. The greasier the cream the better it seems to be. Creams with high water content can actually worsen dry skin by causing more evaporative loss. Finally, glycerin based creams are recommended as they seem to be better at hydrating the skin.

It is important to use mild cleansers on the skin. Traditional soaps alkalinize the skin and can damage the natural skin moisture barrier. Synthetic cleansers (such as Dove, Olay, Cetaphil) are preferred because these tend to be less irritating to the skin. Frequent or excessive washing of the skin can worsen dry skin. It is helpful to not use real hot water and to limit the amount of time in the tub or shower.  Avoid aggressive scrubbing of the skin. After bathing you should pat yourself dry and apply a good quality moisturizer to your damp skin so the moisture can be locked in.

Finally, humidifying the air, especially during the winter months, can help prevent moisture loss and consequently help with dry skin.  Adequate hydration with appropriate water intake is also important.  These simple measures can help keep the skin hydrated.

For severe dry skin or for other associated concerns, such as eczema, remember there are additional treatment options.  For these concerns it would be helpful to discuss this with your healthcare provider.

By Luke Tremble, MD, pediatrician, ThedaCare Physicians-Pediatrics in Appleton.