Q&A Topic: How to Solve Common Winter Skin Woes

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Ross Levy, MD

Q. Winter skin problem #1: eczema. What can be done?

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A. While the cool, dry air may offer a refreshing reprieve after months in the sun, the drier the air, the drier our skin. This is a recipe for eczema, whose symptoms are dry, tight, flaky skin. Using a moisture-rich soap made for sensitive skin, such as those made by Aveeno or Dove, in a warm shower (not hot – it triggers scratching!) is the best way to keep your skin soft. Follow this with a moisturizer. You can also place a humidifier in your bedroom to increase the moisture in the air. If your skin is hydrated, it won’t feel itchy.

Q. How can we keep symptoms from winter skin problem #2, keratosis pilaris (chicken skin), at bay?

A. This is a harmless condition marked by small, hard bumps on your skin, resembling the skin of a plucked chicken. These red or brown bumps are dead skin cells that clog your hair follicles, most often appearing on the upper arms, torso, and legs. Moisturizing lotions can help your skin look and feel better. Ucerin or Cetaphil are good products because they work well and are relatively inexpensive. If your symptoms don’t improve with over-the-counter moisturizers, it’s important to talk to your dermatologist about other options. Many patients do well with topical exfoliants, retinoids, and laser treatments. Even though there’s no cure for keratosis pilaris, you can keep your symptoms at a minimum.

Q. Dandruff is winter skin problem #3. How do we get rid of it?

A. Snow isn’t the only type of white flaky stuff that affects us during the winter months. Dandruff, or unsightly flakes of dead skin from the scalp or face, is a pesky winter problem that many of my patients are embarrassed by. Shampooing more often with products that contain salicylic acid or coal tar is usually effective. Talk to your doctor if your dandruff doesn’t go away with a shampoo. Dandruff can be a symptom of an underlying neurological disorder.

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Q. How do we protect ourselves from winter skin problem #4, skin cancer?

A. The face, head and neck are where the majority of skin cancers occur. Think about it – even as temperatures drop and we begin to bundle up in gloves, coats and boots, these are the areas that tend to remain exposed to the sun year-round. That’s why it’s important to use a moisturizer with SPF even in the winter months and on cloudy days. Potentially cancer-causing ultraviolet (UV) rays don’t hibernate in the winter. They’re present all year round. In fact, some winter sports increase your exposure to harmful UV rays. When you’re skiing, you’re at a higher elevation. For every 1000 feet of increased elevation, we receive 10 percent more UV exposure. So if you’re skiing in Colorado at 10,000 feet, you’re being exposed to 100 percent more sun – double the amount of UV rays present at sea-level. Protect yourself using an SPF of 30 or higher all year long; use a lip balm that has an SPF of 30; cover up with long sleeves, hats and gloves; and always wear sunglasses or ski goggles with UV protection.

Q. Winter Skin Problem #5: Stressed-Out Skin

A. Let’s face it – the holiday season can be stressful. Between planning family gatherings and trying to get a day off work, it’s difficult to stay calm. Stress may trigger winter skin issues. In fact, during periods of emotional stress, the skin’s ability to retain water is significantly reduced, according to a study published in The Archives of Dermatology. If you’re feeling stressed out, try some mindful meditation, deep breathing, or yoga. Clear mind, clear skin.

Learn More about Dr. Levy

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Ross Levy, MD
Chief of Dermatology
Northern Westchester HospitalNorthern Westchester Hospital is a proud member of Northwell Health.

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