Do you have dry, itchy skin in the winter? Well, believe it or not, this may not be due to an allergy. “Winter itch” is the term given to the sensation of itching that many people develop especially in the wintertime. This is also common in patients with eczema or atopic dermatitis and in some genetic conditions such as ichthyosis, where the skin will develop a scaly appearance, especially on the legs. Triggers for winter itch include cold air, dry air (both indoors and outdoors) and use of central heating. While allergens such as foods, pollens, animal dander and dust mite may contribute to atopic dermatitis, winter itch is believed to be caused primarily by dry skin.
What can you do to help relieve winter itch? Well, taking good care of your skin is the first step. Try to avoid irritants to your skin such as long, hot baths or showers. While this can feel good temporarily, hot water actually causes you to lose more moisture from your skin. Try to use only warm water for bathing or showering and limit your time in the water. Also avoid soaps and other harsh chemicals on your skin. Use only a body wash or very mild soap for cleansing such as Dove, Cetaphil or Aveeno.
The most important thing you can do is to moisturize aggressively. Skin experts recommend using a heavy ointment type moisturizer, such as petroleum jelly, as the best option. These types of moisturizers are thick and tend to have longer lasting effects than creams or lotions which have higher water content and tend to evaporate more quickly. However, if you are not a fan of the thicker, greasier moisturizers, experts recommend finding something that you can live with and sticking with it. The actual product you use does not matter as much, as long as you use something consistently! Also, try to use products which are free of any potential contact allergens such as fragrances, dyes and parabens.
Also, don’t forget about the sun! While the sun’s rays are not as direct as in the summer, they can still cause sunburn and contribute to moisture loss from the skin. Be especially careful of reflected sunlight from snow covered ground when enjoying fun in the snow! Be sure to apply UVA and UVB protection with a minimum SPF of 15 prior to outdoor activities.
These tips should help, but if you continue to experience symptoms seek the advice of your doctor.
Charles "Joey" Lane, MD
Allergy Partners of Lynchburg