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Don’t scratch that itch and make things worse. Try these tips to protect and soothe your skin.

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‘Tis the season… for dry, itchy skin. Although skin dryness can occur any time of year, you might notice your skin is especially dry during late fall and winter when the air is colder and less humid. Left untreated, dry skin can lead to itching, flaking, cracking, bleeding and infection. And it can make you miserable.

When it’s chilly outside, you’re more likely to turn up the thermostat, take hot showers and put on wool clothing – all of which can dehydrate or irritate your skin. What’s more, frequent hand-washing or use of hand sanitizer, which are important for fending off COVID-19, have a drying effect. So your skin may be paying the price more than usual this season.

“Itching can be caused by a variety of factors, including medications, health problems (thyroid, liver, or kidney disease for example), allergies to products you are using, and dry skin.  It’s not a bad idea to start by treating dry skin to see if that helps, but try to avoid using products that contain botanical/herbal additives or perfumes, as this can make itching worse.  Find one that is listed as hypoallergenic and fragrance free.  See your dermatologist if you aren’t improving, as you may need further testing to identify the source of the itching.”

Stephanie R. Frederic, MD, FAAD, Dermatology

Fortunately, there are things you can do to relieve dry skin. Here are 8 simple ways to keep skin feeling better:

  1. Avoid hot water. Bathe in warm water to save your skin’s natural oils, which help prevent dryness. Spend less than 10 minutes in the bath or shower.
  2. Clean hands carefully. If your hands are dry and cracked, wash them with lukewarm water and gentle soap, taking care to scrub lightly between fingers and around the nails. Avoid hand sanitizer, when possible, which contains drying alcohol. When you have a choice, soap and water is gentler on skin than hand sanitizer.
  3. Moisturize often. When you use moisturizer, it creates a seal that helps your skin hold water. Make a habit of moisturizing after bathing and washing your hands, ideally right after patting your skin lightly with a towel. Keep in mind that ointments and creams, especially thick ones, usually work better than lotions.
  4. Pay attention to labels. Using gentle, fragrance-free moisturizers, soaps and detergents helps prevent or relieve dry and itchy skin. Choose moisturizers with olive oil, jojoba oil, shea butter, petrolatum, glycerin, lactic acid or urea.
  5. Give your lips some love. Treat chapped lips with hypoallergenic and fragrance-free lip balm or white petroleum jelly to help keep them moist.
  6. Cover up. When the weather’s frightful, protect your skin with a scarf, hat and gloves. Breathable materials like cotton and silk work well as layers under wool clothing. Use protective gloves for tasks that involve putting your hands in water or working with chemicals.
  7. Boost humidity at home. Heating systems dry the air indoors, so it can be helpful to run a humidifier. Don’t sit too close to the fireplace or radiator.
  8. Fight the urge to scratch. Instead, relieve your itch by placing a cold compress (ice pack or cool wet cloth) on your skin for 5 to 10 minutes.

If home remedies don’t help your skin, call your doctor’s office. Your doctor might recommend medications or you may need to schedule an appointment to check for allergies or an underlying condition such as eczema.

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Date Last Reviewed: September 17, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

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