January is a tough time for the skin for most of us that live in the northern hemisphere. Dry air and lower temperatures mean irritation and itching even for those with otherwise healthy skin. For those with chronic skin conditions like eczema, extra care needs to be taken to control the damage.
Winter climate has a drying effect on the skin. The cold and dry air has a direct impact on the skin, removing moisture at a much faster rate than normal. Wind exposure also adds to the moisture loss. As this loss is a constant factor, dryness during the winter is a problem for everyone, not just those with a skin condition. There are also secondary factors at play. During winter we tend to turn up the heat, take baths and showers more frequently, and use hot water more often due to the cold. Unfortunately, all of these responses contribute to further drying and damage. Winter climates trigger multiple negative feedback loops that are particularly damaging to those with eczema:
- Low humidity, low temperature
- Heat, increased use of hot water
- Loss of moisture causing excess shedding of skin and damage
- Itching that prompts scratching
- Further moisture loss and skin damage
For those with eczema, winters are especially damaging to their skin, and most people find that their condition becomes significantly worse. In many cases, a certain amount of discomfort is unavoidable for those with chronic eczema. There are smart ways to minimize the damage, however.
- Wear more layers of clothes when going outside, protecting your skin from contact with the cold, dry air.
- If possible avoid wool clothing as it often reacts to those with eczema. Irritation from constant friction may be a factor.
- Limit bathing or showering time. Perspiration is limited during the winter, so there is less need in terms of hygiene.
- Use warm water when bathing or showering, as it is less damaging compared to hot water. Wear more clothes to keep warm rather than bathing as a way to warm up.
- Purchase a humidifier. Humidifiers can limit the damage that indoor heating systems can do, but restoring some moisture in the air.
- After bathing or showering avoid vigorous rubbing with a towel. Instead use the towel to gently pat the skin dry, leaving moisture on the skin. Apply a moisturizer while the body still feels like there is a small film of moisture on the surface. This tip will help trap the moisture.
- Moisturize more regularly than usual. The skin needs extra protection during the winter.
Expect some flare-ups and treat them promptly with medication. Managing itch at an early stage is critical as scratching can quickly damage your skin.
- If you can, take a few days to vacation somewhere warm. The skin will appreciate the holiday too.