As winter approaches, the battle for healthy skin begins. But you can minimize
the toll the next few months will take on your skin by preparing now.
Facing the enemy
As temperatures drop, heaters clank on, and the wind whips up, the battle
for healthy skin begins. Dry air takes away the thin layer of oil that
traps moisture in the skin, flaring itchy and painful conditions such
as eczema, psoriasis, and severe dry skin.
"If we stop producing moisture or if heating sucks it out of the
skin, and it's not being replaced, that will tend to cause little
cracks that affect the barrier of the skin," says Alan Menter, MD,
chair of psoriasis research and the division of dermatology at Baylor
University Medical Center in Dallas. Any trauma to the skin, such as cracking,
causes an inflammatory response, which can make skin more susceptible
to flare-ups of psoriasis and eczema.
But you can minimize the toll the next few months will take on your skin
by preparing now. Here's our action plan to keep you comfortable and
When it's cold outside, some of us prolong our hot showers and baths,
which is a recipe for dry, irritated skin, says Dr. Menter. Instead he
1. Keep the shower as brief as possible and use lukewarm, not hot, water.
2. Switch to less aggressive, moisture-rich soaps made for sensitive skin,
such as those made by Dove and Aveeno.
3. Gently pat yourself dry to avoid traumatizing or overdrying the skin.
4. Apply moisturizer while your skin is still slightly damp.
Therapeutic baths, such as oatmeal baths or sea salt baths, may help some
patients, but they tend to take time, and some salt treatments can be
drying, so it’s important to moisturize afterward.
Whether you have eczema, psoriasis, or severe dry skin (known as xerosis),
you need to replace any moisture the dry air steals away. "As soon
as the weather gets dry, I tell my patients to start a regular regime
of moisturizing. The best time to do it is right after they bathe,"
says Dr. Menter.
Bruce Strober, MD, PhD, director of the Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis
Center at NYU Medical Center in New York City, understands that not everyone,
especially men, will take time to do so. "I tell patients that I
don't care how they moisturize, just do it regularly in a way that
you like." He recommends targeting problem areas first.
"There are so many good over-the-counter products out there. Eucerin
is one, and Cetaphil. They're inexpensive and work well," says
To get better results, Christine Yuan, 22, who lives with eczema and psoriasis,
wraps her problem areas in plastic wrap for 30 minutes to an hour after
moisturizing. "It takes time," says Yuan, "but your skin
is baby soft!"
Dress for less irritation
If your skin does flare up, choose soft, breathable fabrics, like cotton,
instead of itchy woolens or polyester. Loose-fitting clothing will also
help to keep your skin from chafing and becoming irritated by perspiration.
Change the air around you
Dr. Strober suggests that his patients use a humidifier to increase moisture
levels in the home. Experts recommend keeping the humidity level between
30% and 50% (which you can measure with a hygrometer).
Because psoriasis and eczema involve immune system responses, experts believe
that many bacterial, viral, or fungal infections can make them worse.
Dr. Strober recommends getting a flu shot, if your primary care physician
agrees that it’s appropriate. "Ask your primary doctor, and
then get it and any other vaccinations that might help you fight infection."
And follow basic steps to keep yourself healthy, like washing your hands
frequently, getting good sleep, and exercising.
Winter means the holidays and the stress that they inevitably bring. "Emotional
stress, being under pressure, and trying to get things done before the
holidays certainly can trigger psoriasis and, to a lesser degree, eczema,"
says Dr. Menter.
A 2001 report in
Archives of Dermatology measured stress levels and water loss in students without any skin disease
after winter vacation, during final exams, and during spring break. The
researchers found that during periods of stress, the skin's ability
to retain water was reduced.
Look for ways—such as exercise, meditation, yoga, or biofeedback—to
relieve holiday-related stress.
Watch your weight
From that first bite of Thanksgiving turkey to the last glass of Champagne
on New Year’s Eve, the holidays are a weight-gain minefield.
But psoriasis patients should tread carefully. There isn't conclusive
research linking diet and psoriasis, but fasting periods, low-energy diets,
and vegetarian diets improved psoriasis in some studies. And weight gain
in general can worsen the condition.
"It does behoove a psoriasis patient to have a lower BMI. Studies
do suggest that higher BMI corresponds with increased severity of psoriasis,"
says Dr. Strober.
Phototherapy for psoriasis
Winter also brings a decrease in the amount of sun exposure—not a
good thing since sunlight can help relieve psoriasis. In fact, 60% of
psoriasis patients reported improvement with sunlight in a 2004
Clinical and Experimental Dermatology study.
"The issue is two-fold," says Dr. Strober. "First, people
wear garments that cover the skin and have a tendency to stay indoors.
Second, the potency of ultraviolet light is lessened in the wintertime."
So phototherapy (in which patients are exposed to UVB or UVA rays) makes
sense for patients "who are responsive to UV light," says Dr.
Strober. "But you need to come in at least two to three times a week."
The bonus, though, is it is covered by many insurance policies.
PUVA, a combination of UVA rays and psoralen, a medication that increases
the skin's sensitivity to ultraviolet light, is another option. In
a 2006 study published in
Archives of Dermatology, clearance rates were roughly 80% for psoriasis patients who received
PUVA and 50% for patients who received narrow-band UVB.
Originally featured on Health.com