Morsani College of Medicine

Dermatology & Cutaneous Surgery

The Winter Itch of Dry Skin

The winter itch  of dry skin.

Winter weather comes with dry, itchy skin that may start to crack and possibly become painful. Several factors contribute to dry compromised skin including but not limited to cold weather, low humidity, overuse of soap, and genetics. Some of these factors we can control and others we cannot control, like genetics. However, there are things we can do, avoid, and apply to aid in minimizing dry itchy skin.

#1 Drink Plenty of Water. Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day to stay hydrated to keep your skin soft and less dehydrated from the environmental changes.

#2 Use a Small Amount of a Gentle Soap. Use a gentle soap with minimal ingredients and a small amount. The more soap you use and the more ingredients the soap has the drier you are more likely to be. Very dry people may consider only using soap on the really dirty or stinky parts. Our office recommends for the face SkinMedica® Sensitive Skin Cleanser and for the body Cetaphil® Skin Restoring Body Wash.

#3 Avoid Long Hot Showers or Baths. The hotter the water and the longer you are exposed the more dry your skin will become.

#4 Use a Moisturizer. After bathing pat dry with a towel and while your skin is still moist apply a moisturizer. Our office recommends a facial moisturizer specifically tailored for your skin type. And for those with really dry compromised skin we suggest a moisturizer that contains ceramides and other lipids to aid in restoring and protecting the skin barrier. We recommend SkinMedica® TNS Ceramide Cream for the face and Ceratopic Replenishing Cream for the body.  For really dry, red, painful cracked skin one should use a healing ointment, such as SkinMedica® Restorative Ointment.  

#5 Wear Gloves and other Protective Clothing. Wearing gloves and other protective clothing protects your skin from the environmental conditions that cause compromised skin. When washing dishes, preparing food or cleaning bathrooms we recommend you keep your hands as dry as possible. One technique you can use is the double glove technique. First, put on thin cotton gloves and then put rubber gloves over the cotton gloves. Also, wear hats, gloves, jackets, etc to protect your skin when going outside during the cold months.

#6 Hand Washing and Antibacterial Gels. Washing your hands is a must. Just make sure that you thoroughly and completely dry your hands and then immediately apply a moisturizer to help lock in the moisture from washing your hands. If this is not feasible consider using a barrier type moisturizer. Remember lotions in soaps do not moisturize, they rinse away like the soap. Also, antibacterial gels are good at getting rid of bacteria, but they have a very high percentage of alcohol that tends to dry the skin.

If you continue to have winter itch and dry compromised skin after trying the suggestions above see the dermatologist for more intensive treatment and detailed education for your unique skin.

Dr. Neil Alan Fenske, MD

Neil Alan Fenkse, MD is the Professor and Chairman, University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine.