Ditch the Winter Itch

If you've ever scratched your arm or leg and left a trail of white flakes (who hasn't?), then you’ve seen the effects of dry skin. While uncomfortable, dry skin usually isn’t "serious," but it can make a formerly-smooth complexion tight, itchy and more prone to fine lines. Dryness can also make your skin appear rough and scaly, and is often accompanied by flaking and peeling too. In some extreme cases, deep fissures may appear—ouch!

Dry skin is the most severe in the winter months when the temperature and humidity levels fall. But most home heating systems don't help—they too can strip your skin of moisture, leaving it tight and uncomfortable.

And while you might think it's helpful, taking a hot bath, in addition to daily use of harsh soaps and detergents (known skin irritants), deodorant and antibacterial soaps (often the worst offenders), can make your symptoms even worse. So what can you do?

Treating Your Dry Skin
  • Take short, warm baths and showers. Long, hot soaks in the bath or showers can strip the protective oils from your skin. Instead, aim for quick (15 minutes or less), warm (not hot) soaking sessions. After your bath or shower, moisturize your skin while it's still damp.
  • Moisturize often. Applying a rich cream or lotion will help seal in moisture and keep water from escaping. If your skin is extremely dry, you can use a moisturizing oil, such as almond oil (apply it directly to damp skin or pour a capful into your bath water). Apply any moisturizer after a bath or shower while your skin is still moist to maximize its effectiveness.
  • Choose a mild cleanser. Non-foaming cleansing creams and liquid shower gels with added moisturizers are the best options for dry skin. Avoid deodorant and antibacterial bar soaps, which are especially harsh.
  • Dry off gently. Gently dry off after a shower or bath by patting your skin with a soft towel. Immediately moisturize with an oil or cream while your skin is still damp.
  • Add moisture to the air. Dry indoor air can strip moisture from your skin, making it itchy and flaky. Buy a room humidifier (or a whole-house humidifier for your heating system) to add moisture to the air inside your home, making sure to keep the unit clean to minimize bacteria and mold. Placing bowls of water on your radiators is a low-tech option if you live in an older home.
  • Wear gentle fabrics. Dry skin is easily irritated, so wear clothing made from soft, natural materials like cotton and silk. Wash your clothing with a detergent that doesn’t contain dyes or perfumes, which can irritate your skin.
Soothing Your Dry Hair and Scalp
The same environmental factors that can cause dry skin can also dry out your hair.
  • Don't shampoo every day. If your hair is dull and brittle, shampoo it a little less often, such as every other day, to allow the natural oils to coat each strand between washings. Simply rinse your hair with water on the days you don’t shampoo. Brushing your hair will also stimulate the scalp and help distribute the oil down to the ends.
  • Use a shampoo with humectants. When you do need to wash your hair, use a shampoo that contains humectants, which attract moisture from the air. Look for panthenol or glycerin on the ingredients list.
  • Avoid heat styling. Styling your hair with blow dryers, curling irons or flat irons is especially drying, so avoid heat-styling as much as possible to minimize dryness and damage. Try the "cool" air setting on your hair dryer too, and allow your hair to air-dry for as long as possible to minimize the amount of time you have to use your hair dryer.
  • Consider switching shampoos. A dry scalp (and the itching and flakes that go along with it) can sometimes be caused by harsh shampoos. Try switching to a plant-based, ph-balanced shampoo that doesn’t contain sodium laurel sulphate, a harsh cleanser that strips away your hair’s natural oils.
  • Apply oil. You can also treat dryness by applying moisturizing oil directly to your hair. Flaxseed and safflower oils are both rich in essential fatty acids and won’t make your hair greasy when used in small amounts. Place a drop or two of oil in your palms and rub your hands together. Squeeze the ends of your hair to apply a light layer of oil and work up towards your scalp. Since the amount of oil is so small, you don’t need to rinse it out. Do this as often as needed—both of these oils are also natural humectants that will attract and retain moisture.
You don’t have to suffer through the long winter with dry skin or brittle hair. With only a few minor changes to your beauty routine you can have soft, comfortable skin all season long!