This content is also available in: Vietnamese
By: Dr. Benjamin Barankin, MD FRCPC www.torontodermatologycentre.com
As we exit the winter months, many of us might be suffering from dry, flakey skin. This is due to a variety of reasons. The environment plays a big role. Dry air will dry out your skin, particularly in the winter in homes with electric heat and low humidity.
As age reduces oil production, our skin becomes more susceptible to drying. Certain skin diseases make skin more susceptible to drying and irritation including eczema, and psoriasis. Harsh detergents and soaps further irritate us. In the winter, there is a tendency to want to take nice long hot showers that further degrease the already dry skin, aggravating the situation. Using detergents and soaps with the hot water and its degreasing action adds insult to injury.
As the skin dries, it cracks and feels rough. Areas of redness develop. Scratching or rubbing the skin causes burning and itching sensations, leading to more itching and scratching.
The best way to get your glow back is through rehydration. This is done with a good soak (three to five minutes) in plain water. The water should not be too hot, just comfortably warm. Little to no soap should be used. If a cleanser is needed, one can use Cetaphil liquid cleanser, Spectroderm/jel or CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser bar.
After the soak, while the skin is moist, apply a lubricant. Excellent choices include Cerave cream, Aveeno eczema care balm, Lipikar baume, Eucerin complete repair, or Cliniderm cream. Consider adding bath oil or colloidal oatmeal (Aveeno soothing bath) to your bath to form a film or coating to keep the real moisturizer (water) in the skin.
Hands and feet can be particularly difficult, feet because they are in warm, moist, occlusive footwear most of the day. When footwear is removed, the soggy skin rapidly dries out and cracks. Keep socks and slippers on in the house so the feet do not dry out too much. A special plain water soak for the feet may be necessary, followed by CeraVe SA cream, Neutrogena’s Norwegian Formula Foot Cream or Aquaphor Healing Ointment. These types of products should be left on overnight, ideally with socks. Take your socks to the bathroom with you and wear them immediately after applying ointment to prevent slipping on your floor as well as tracking ointment through your house, and for enhanced penetration.
Hands that are in and out of water are damaged by repeated cycles of over-drying. To protect them, use thin cotton gloves under rubber gloves for all wet work. Around the fingernails and for deep cracked areas, apply either plain petrolatum (petroleum jelly), Neutrogena’s Norwegian Formula Hand Cream (unscented), Lipikar Xerand Hand Repair Cream or Aquaphor Healing Ointment. Make sure you wash with a mild cleanser rather than soap.
Many of the over‑the‑counter “moisturizer” products are light lotions. Avoid these. They may be adequate for lubrication in the southern parts of North America but are not adequate for our harsh winter climate with prolonged low humidity. Indeed, they often make matters worse