Winter has arrived. To learn more about treating dry, scaly skin, I emailed some questions to noted dermatolgist, Dr. Heidi Waldorf.
Comments have been edited for clarity and length.
1. How important is it that people tweak their skincare routines come winter? In other words... do people really need to use a heavier moisturizer when it's cold?
Winter in northern climates brings cold temperatures, strong winds, and low humidity outside. The heat is turned on indoors. Skin loses water to the environment by evaporation and becomes dry. Skin feels rough and looks scaly. These changes represent breaks in the skin's protective barrier. Broken skin also exposes the underlying skin to environmental irritants and bacteria which can lead to inflammation and infection. Something called the ‘itch-scratch cycle’ develops: we feel the itch, scratch the spot that itches, the skin becomes more irritated and split from scratching, resulting in an even more intense itch which triggers more scratching and so on.
Basic winter dry skin care involves maintaining moisturization. Daily bathing is a practice that can be harmful or helpful. Try and resist the temptation to take a long hot shower or bath. Water should be lukewarm, not hot. Water removes important moisturizing factors in the top layers of the skin that are important to keep skin pliable. And as the water evaporates from the skin, moisture is lost. Stick with gentle non-soap cleansers and only use on body parts that tend to sweat or need cleaning rather than applying all over. Then apply a bland moisturizer all over.
Here's a tip: You know you are doing a good job if your skin doesn’t feel tight or stingy at the end.
It is important to discuss with your dermatologist what changes might be needed to your regimen as the seasons change to maintain your best skin health and beauty.
2. What can I do to prevent dry, cracked lips?
Lips are always susceptible to dryness. Saliva wets the lips and breath dries them. Mouth breathers, often due to post-nasal drip, the stuffed nose of a cold, or the placement of braces on the teeth, are particularly prone to dry, cracked lips. Applying a petrolatum, mineral oil, or soft wax based product will both soothe and protect the lips. Apply in the morning, after eating or drinking and before bed.
3. Do I still need sunscreen in the winter? What about on those dreary, grey days?Do not forget sun protection during winter, particularly when heading to higher elevations for winter sports. But even in the city on grey days, sun protection is important. Although there is little if any ultraviolet B (UVB, the more superficial 'burning' rays) reaching the ground at this time, the ultraviolet A (UVA, the deeper 'aging' rays) rays come through. Choose a moisturizer with an SPF of at least 15 and a UVA-protective ingredient like titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone (Parsol 1789) or Mexoryl SX.
More on Heidi Waldorf:
As Director of Laser and Cosmetic Dermatology at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, NY and Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Dermatology at The Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Heidi A. Waldorf, M.D. is a respected expert in the field of dermatology, including skin rejuvenation and laser technology, as well as skin cancer prevention and treatment.