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Winter Itch & Dry Skin [Treatment & Tips From a Dermatologist]

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Top 3 Causes of Winter Itch Dry Skin

Does everyone experience dry skin in the winter?

Treatment for Dry Skin

Dr. Allawh’s Tips Tricks for Managing Dry Skin

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but it’s important to keep your skin glowing and looking oh so “delightful”! As a board certified dermatologist, dry skin is a frequent concern for many of my patients.

So what makes dry skin worse during the winter months and does everyone experience dry skin in the winter?

Top 3 Causes of Winter Itch Dry Skin

Hot showers

Though long hot showers may feel perfect during the cold winter months, exposure to hot water is a common cause of dry skin. Exposure to hot water may cause damage to the protective barrier of our skin by promoting further water and moisture loss.

Climate change

Exposure to cold weather and low humidity (dry air) are two common dry skin and eczema triggers. For this reason, hand eczema flares most commonly occur during cold, dry winters.

Central indoor heating

As tempting as it may be to turn up the central heating, this may in fact contribute to your dry skin. How? Well, central heating has been shown to reduce the humidity indoors causing further water loss and dry skin.

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Does everyone experience dry skin in the winter?

Not exactly. Though dry skin and winter itch is very common, some people are more susceptible to dry skin. Risk factors for dry skin include:


Elderly individuals are more at risk for developing dry skin. As we age, our skin becomes increasingly thin and delicate (especially on the sun exposed areas of the skin, such as the face, chest, arms and legs). With chronic sun exposure, hormonal changes and age, our skin becomes increasingly dry and more susceptible to dry, scaly patches and itching.

History of eczema

Individuals with a history of eczema, including childhood eczema, may be more susceptible to experiencing dry skin during the winter months.

Occupational risks

Individuals in certain professions are more likely to experience dry skin. This may be due to frequent exposure to irritating substances that may trigger dry skin, such as cleaning agents, body washes, fragrances and detergents and/or frequent hand washing.

For example, caterers, hairdressers, childcare workers, construction workers, janitors, domestic cleaners and healthcare professionals are more at risk.

cracked lips


Individuals with a history of Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes are more at risk for developing dry skin. This is due to a high blood sugar (glucose) as well as poor blood circulation in the skin which collectively may cause dry skin and persistent itching.


Several medications taken orally and/or applied topically may cause dry skin. Certain blood pressure and cholesterol medications as well as topical and oral acne treatments, anti-aging creams and antihistamines may be the culprit for your dry skin.

It is important to review your medications, both prescription and over-the-counter with your medical provider when investigating the cause of your dry skin.

Hormonal changes

Post-menopausal females are more susceptible to experiencing dry skin, especially during the winter months. Hormonal changes, specifically in the estrogen level, may lead to dry and at times, very itchy skin.

It is important to discuss with your medical provider ways to safely treat dry skin in peri-menopause and post-menopause.

Treatment for Dry Skin

Hydrating, repairing skin damage and maintaining the protective skin barrier are key ways to tackle dry skin, especially during the winter months. Finding the perfect moisturizer to help achieve maximum skin hydration may be a daunting task for any consumer!

What should you pay attention to when looking for a moisturizer? In general, when searching for moisturizers ointments are better than creams which are in turn better than lotions. It is important to choose a moisturizer that is safe to apply on the face and/or body.

Ingredients to look for in a moisturizer

  • Niacinamide

Niacinamide is an effective moisturizing ingredient that works by increasing the production of essential skin proteins (fillagrin) and lipids (ceramide). These proteins and lipids are key as they are frequently impaired in individuals with dry skin and eczema. If you experience red flaky skin, niacinamide may be the right ingredient for you. Niacinamide also has anti-inflammatory properties and helps to reduce skin redness.

  • Ceramides

As noted above, ceramides are skin lipids that are found in the top layer of the skin, also referred to as the epidermis. Ceramide is a key ingredient for protecting the skin barrier and preventing skin water loss. Moisturizers containing ceramides are not only hydrating, but also soothing.

  • Shea butter

Shea butter derived from the Shea tree fruit (Butyrospermum parkii) has soothing, anti-inflammatory, hydrating as well as antioxidant effects—perfect for those suffering from dry winter skin.

  • Glycerin

Glycerin is a specific type of moisturizing ingredient called a humectant meaning it helps draw water back into the skin and prevents further water loss. Glycerin is frequently added to not only skin moisturizers, but also soaps and cleansers to counter their drying effects on the skin.

Ingredients to steer clear of

  • Botanical or “plant-derived”

Despite the term “all-natural”, some botanical ingredients may further worsen and irritate dry skin as well as causing skin rashes similar to poison ivy.

  • Fragrance

Fragrance may be appealing when purchasing a body or facial moisturizer, but fragrance is a frequent skin allergen and has been shown to worsen dry and eczema-prone skin.

  • Preservatives

Preservatives are commonly added to moisturizers, soaps, body washes and cleansers in order to prevent growth of harmful microorganisms. Preservatives include parabens, methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI) methylisothiazolinone (MI), salicylic acid, formaldehyde, and methyl dibromo glutaronitrile, which may cause skin irritation, itching, skin allergic rashes and worsen dry skin.

  • Alcohol

Alcohol is antimicrobial ingredient (meaning it kills bacteria). However, alcohol when added to moisturizers and soaps has been found to be irritating and drying to the skin.

  • Sulfates

Sulfates are notorious for causing and/or worsening dry skin by stripping away natural essential oils from the skin.

moisturizing dry skin

Dr. Allawh’s Tips Tricks for Managing Dry Skin

  1. Limit Bathing: Limit bathing to less than 10 minutes 2-3 times per week in lukewarm (not hot) water to help prevent significant water loss from the skin.

  2. Avoid HARSH soaps: Use gentle soap such as Dove sensitive skin BAR fragrance free soap, vanicream cleansing BAR or CeraVe hydrating cleanser, Cetaphil cleanser, or Exederm soap. NO Bubble bathes.

  3. Say goodbye to your loofah or washcloth: When cleansing your skin use your hands to gently apply the soap on the skin. Avoid user of a washcloth or other harsh material to wash the skin (no sponge, loofah, baby wipes, wash rag) as this may further dry out and irritate the skin.

  4. Dab, don’t rub dry: Gently pat your skin with a dry towel leaving your skin slightly damp. Avoid scrubbing or rubbing as this may further dry the skin.

  5. Go with greasy: Frequent moisturizing is essential to combatting dry skin, especially with a greasy ointment. Ointments in comparison to creams and lotions are overall more effective in hydrating dry skin and create a barrier against skin infections. Wait a few minutes prior to getting dressed to allow the moisturizer and/or prescription medication to penetrate the skin.

  6. Loose-fitting clothing: Avoid tight-fitting clothing made of harsh fabrics such as wool or nylon as these may irritate dry skin.

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