Skin Needs Protection From Winter Weather

SATURDAY, Dec. 26 (HealthDay News) -- When the air outside is chilly and low on humidity, and the air inside is heated and dry, you have a recipe for chapped skin and cracked lips, dermatologists say.

To prevent scaling, flaking and itching, pay special attention to your skin during the cold months by applying a cream-based moisturizer every day, recommends Dr. Anjali Dahiya, a dermatologist at the Iris Cantor Women's Health Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

A good time to use moisturizer is just after showering to help trap moisture on the skin's surface. Those with sensitive skin should choose a moisturizer without fragrance or lanolin.

And although frequent hand washing is often urged to prevent the spread of germs, all of that soap and water can also make hands chapped. Using a mild soap and moisturizing afterwards can help relieve the dryness, the experts say.

When it comes to bathing, stay away from very hot water. Short, lukewarm showers or baths with a non-irritating, non-detergent-based cleanser are easier on the skin. Immediately afterward, apply a mineral oil or petroleum jelly-type moisturizer and gently pat skin dry.

Rinsing your body daily but using less soap can also help protect the skin's natural moisturizers, said Dr. Monica Halem, a dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

To deal with dry air from heaters, add some moisture back into the air by using a humidifier, and don't forget to clean it often to prevent mold and fungus.

When heading outside, cover your face and use a petrolatum-based balm with an SPF for your lips. It's also advised to use sunscreen, which is just as important in the winter as in the summer if you're going to be spending time in the snow, the dermatologist added.

While it may be tempting to try to get rid of that pasty look by visiting a tanning bed, resist. Tanning beds damage the skin, leading to premature aging, and increase the risk of skin cancer. Instead, choose self-tanners with extra moisturizers, since some self-tanners can also dry out the skin.

Scaling, itching or cracked skin that is not relieved by moisturizers should be checked by a dermatologist, who may suggest a prescription medication.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on dry skin causes and treatments.

SOURCE: New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, news release, Dec. 7, 2009

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