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Skin Health

Fighting the Winter Itch: Skin Care Tips

Dipping temperatures and biting winds cause a big problem for our body’s biggest organ: skin.

“The main reason that we get more dry during the winter months is because of the low humidity, so there’s less moisture in the air,” says. Dr. Debra Breneman, a dermatologist at Group Health – a TriHealth Physician Partner.

Tips for Taking Care of Your Skin During Colder Months 

"First of all, try to increase the humidity in the air in the home,” Dr. Breneman explains. “Add a humidifier, keep lots of plants in the room, or do whatever will get more moisture in the air. That’s ideal, but not everyone has the opportunity to do those types of things.” She also suggests:

  • Avoiding washing with irritating soaps or harsh cleansers.
  • Avoiding thick clothing, like wool, that can irritate the skin.
  • Applying a moisturizer within two or three minutes of bathing.

Dr. Breneman reminds patients that soaps are not always necessary for cleansing every area of one's skin. "Really, the only places you need to use soap, in general, are the areas where there tend to be odors created." These areas include:

  • Under the arms
  • The groin
  • Feet

"If you have dirt on your skin and it isn't rinsing off, then one should use soap," she explains. "And obviously, on the hards, in wintertime, with flu season and everything."

She also points out that people don’t have to wait until after bathing to moisturize. “People with very dry skin will see more improvement if moisturizers are applied two or more times daily.”  

Moisturizer: What Type Should I Use?

Certain types of moisturizers are more effective than others. “A lot of it depends on how dry someone’s skin is and then, there are obviously cosmetic aspects to the moisturizer, too,” Dr. Breneman points out.

Very Dry Skin: Ointment Moisturizers

These have the greatest ability to trap moisture in the skin. While people tend to steer clear of these because they have a greasy feel, Dr. Breneman says they are best for people with very dry skin.

“One really good way to get really inexpensive ointment moisturizer is Crisco All-Vegetable Shortening,” she explains. “It’s actually, cosmetically, not bad at all." However, if you are acne-prone, she says to avoid using this product on your face.

Dry Skin: Cream Moisturizers

There are a variety of cream moisturizers, but they typically have a thicker consistency. Dr. Brenenman’s favorite cream moisturizers include Eucerin and Minerin Creme.

For those with dry skin who are prone to acne, she suggests Cetaphil or CeraVe moisturizing creams. “Those are great moisturizers, but they’re also non-comedogenic,” she points out. “They’ve been tested on patients with acne and they didn’t’ make the acne worse."

Mildly Dry or Normal Skin: Lotions

Lotions are more of a suspension of oily chemicals in alcohol or water, so they are less greasy. Dr. Breneman suggests avoiding dry-skin lotions that contain alcohol products, if you have very dry skin.

People perceive them as being more pleasant to put on because they sink into the skin more quickly, but many of them actually have an alcohol component, she explains. “Because of that, they can actually be somewhat drying ... for just very mildly dry skin or normal skin, those may be fine.”

Tips for People with Acne-Prone Skin

While Dr. Breneman does her best to not prescribe products that are especially drying during colder months, “there are products that are going to be the best products and they just are somewhat drying. In that case, you have to work around that.” 

One thing she tells her patients who are on an especially skin-irritating, acne-fighting regimen, is to put their acne medicine on and let it sink in and dry for a few minutes, and then, to put a moisturizer on top.

She also reminds patients that it’s okay to nix using a harsher cleanser and instead, just use their topical acne medication. “You’re not getting as much benefit from those [harsh cleansers] as you are from an acne medicine you’re actually putting on the skin and leaving on the skin.”

In some cases, she tells patients to use their acne medicine less frequently during colder months. “There’s something called a ‘hardening effect,’ where the skin will tolerate it better,” Dr. Breneman explains. “So, if you get a new prescription, rather than starting every day, start maybe every other day or every third day, and gradually work up to the level you can get to.”

Sunscreen: Do I Need it During the Winter?

Dr. Breneman doesn’t see a point in dropping SPF levels in the winter. “I don’t care if it’s winter or summer,” she says. “Sun exposure is cumulative over a lifetime, so whether there’s less ultraviolet radiation hitting our skin in the winter, it’s still there.”

She suggests wearing an especially moisturizing sunscreen with SPF 30, daily. “That can really help combat dry skin – and kill two birds with one stone.”

Learn more winter skin care tips in our Health Library:

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Find a TriHealth Doctor

Debra Breneman MD
Dermatology
Phone (513) 246-7007

Group Health
7810 Five Mile Rd
Cincinnati, OH 45230

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