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Prevent Winter from Weathering Your Skin

Ten Tips for Stopping That "Winter Itch"

NEW YORK (Oct 1, 2013)

All winter flakes are not made of snow. Cold weather, with its low relative humidity, wreaks havoc on our skin, making it dry and flaky. Skin dries out if it's deprived of moisture and this dryness often aggravates itchiness, resulting in a condition commonly referred to as "winter itch."

During the winter the air is drier, and indoor heating further depletes your skin of moisture. Fortunately, there are several ways that you can replenish the water content of your skin.

Dr. Robyn Gmyrek, a dermatologist and director of the Skin and Laser Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, suggests the following ten tips to help turn your alligator skin into suede:

  1. Moisturize daily. Petrolatum or cream-based moisturizers are far better than lotions for normal to dry skin. If you have sensitive skin, choose a moisturizer without fragrance or lanolin. Apply moisturizer directly to your wet skin after bathing to ensure that the moisturizer can help to trap surface moisture.
  2. Cleanse your skin, but don't overdo it. Too much cleansing removes the skin's natural moisturizers. It is enough to wash your face, hands, feet, and between the folds of your skin once a day. While you can rinse your trunk, arms and legs daily, it is not necessary to use soap or cleanser on these areas every day.
  3. Limit the use of hot water and soap. If you have "winter itch," take short lukewarm showers or baths with a non-irritating, non-detergent-based cleanser. Immediately afterward, apply a thick cream or a petroleum-jelly-type moisturizer. Gently pat skin dry.
  4. Humidify. Dry air can pull the moisture from your skin. Room humidifiers can be very beneficial. However, be sure to clean the unit and change the water according to the manufacturer's instructions to reduce mold and fungi.
  5. Protect yourself from the wind. Cover your face and use a petrolatum-based balm for your lips.
  6. Avoid extreme cold. Cold temperatures can cause skin disorders or frostbite in some people. See a doctor immediately if you develop color changes in your hands or feet accompanied by pain or ulceration. If you develop extreme pain followed by loss of sensation in a finger or toe, you may have frostbite.
  7. Protect your skin from the sun. Remember that winter sun can also be dangerous to the skin. Even in the winter months you should use a sunscreen with a sun-protection factor of 15 or greater if you will be outdoors for prolonged periods. Overexposure to sunlight can lead to premature aging of the skin and skin cancer.
  8. Avoid winter tanning. Tanning beds and artificial sunlamps are always damaging to your skin and increase your risk of skin cancer. If you want to keep your summer glow, use self-tanners along with extra moisturizer as self-tanners can also dry out your skin.
  9. Take vitamin D supplements. During the summer months your natural vitamin D production increases due to daily sun exposure, but when winter rolls around that exposure decreases. Taking vitamin supplements can ensure that you are getting the recommended amounts of vitamin D all year.
  10. See your dermatologist. If you have persistent dry skin, scaling, itching, skin growths that concern you or other rashes, see your dermatologist — not only in winter but throughout the year..

For more information, patients may call (866) NYP-NEWS.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, based in New York City, is one of the nation's largest and most comprehensive hospitals, with some 2,600 beds. In 2012, the Hospital had nearly 2 million inpatient and outpatient visits, including 12,758 deliveries and 275,592 visits to its emergency departments. NewYork-Presbyterian's 6,144 affiliated physicians and 20,154 staff provide state-of-the-art inpatient, ambulatory and preventive care in all areas of medicine at six major centers: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Westchester Division and NewYork-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital. One of the most comprehensive health care institutions in the world, the Hospital is committed to excellence in patient care, research, education and community service. NewYork-Presbyterian is the #1 hospital in the New York metropolitan area and is consistently ranked among the best academic medical institutions in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. The Hospital has academic affiliations with two of the nation's leading medical colleges: Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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