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  • January 14, 2022

    By Allison Larson, MD

    Whether you’re a winter sports enthusiast or spend the season curled up by the fireplace, the low humidity, bitter winds, and dry indoor heat that accompany cold weather can deplete your skin’s natural moisture. Dry skin is not only painful, uncomfortable, and irritating; it also can lead to skin conditions such as eczema, which results in itchy, red, bumpy skin patches. 

    Follow these six tips to prevent and treat skin damage caused by winter dryness.

    1. Do: Wear sunscreen all year long.

    UV rays can easily penetrate cloudy skies to dry out exposed skin. And when the sun is shining, snow and ice reflect its rays, increasing UV exposure. 

    Getting a sunburn can cause severe dryness, premature aging of the skin, and skin cancer. Snow or shine, apply sunscreen before participating in any outdoor activity during the winter—especially if you take a tropical vacation to escape the cold; your skin is less accustomed to sunlight and more likely to burn quickly.

    The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends sunscreen that offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.

    That being said, if you are considering laser skin treatments to reduce wrinkles, hair, blemishes, or acne scars, winter is a better time to receive these procedures. Sun exposure shortly after a treatment increases the risk of hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin), and people are less likely to spend time outside during the winter.

    Related reading: 7 Simple Ways to Protect Your Skin in the Sun

    2. Do: Skip products with drying ingredients.

    Soaps or facial products you use in warm weather with no issues may irritate your skin during colder seasons. This is because they contain ingredients that can cause dryness, but the effects aren’t noticeable until they’re worsened by the dry winter climate.

    You may need to take a break from:

    • Anti-acne medications containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid
    • Antibacterial and detergent-based soap
    • Anything containing fragrance, from soap to hand sanitizer

    Hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer, which contains a high level of skin-drying alcohol, cannot be avoided; we need to maintain good hand hygiene to stop the spread of germs. If your job or lifestyle requires frequent hand washing or sanitizing, routinely apply hand cream throughout the day as well.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen a lot of people develop hand dermatitis—a condition with itchy, burning skin that can swell and blister—due to constant hand washing. Sometimes the fix is as simple as changing the soap they're using. Sensitive-skin soap is the best product for dry skin; it typically foams up less but still cleans the skin efficiently.

    3. Do: Pay closer attention to thick skin.

    Areas of thin skin, such as the face and backs of your hands, are usually exposed to the wind and sun the most. It’s easy to tell when they start drying out. But the thick skin on your palms and bottoms of your feet is also prone to dryness—and tends to receive less attention.

    When thick skin gets dry, fissures form. You’ll see the surface turn white and scaly; then deep, linear cracks will appear. It isn’t as pliable as thin skin. When you’re constantly on your feet or using your hands to work, cook, and everything in between, dry thick skin cracks instead of flexing with your movements. 

    To soften cracked skin, gently massage a heavy-duty moisturizer—such as Vaseline—into the affected area once or twice a day. You can also talk with your doctor about using a skin-safe adhesive to close the fissures and help them heal faster.

    Related reading:  Follow these 5 Tips for Healthy Skin

    4. Don’t believe the myth that drinking more water will fix dry skin.

    Contrary to popular belief, the amount of water or fluids you drink does not play a major role in skin hydration—unless you’re severely dehydrated. In the winter, especially, dry skin is caused by external elements; it should be treated from the outside as well. 

    The best way to keep skin hydrated and healthy is to apply fragrance-free cream or ointment—not lotion—to damp skin after a shower or bath.
    Some people need additional moisturizers for their hands, legs, or other areas prone to dryness.

    While some lotions are made better than others, most are a combination of water and powder that evaporates quickly. Creams and ointments work better because they contain ingredients that can help rebuild your skin barrier. 

    Look for products with ceramide, a fatty acid that helps rebuild the fat and protein barrier that holds your skin cells together. The AAD also recommends moisturizing ingredients such as:

    • Dimethicone
    • Glycerin
    • Jojoba oil
    • Lanolin
    • Mineral oil
    • Petrolatum
    • Shea butter

    For severely dry skin, you can try a “wet wrap” technique:

    1. Rinse a pair of tight-fitting pajamas in warm water and wring them out so they’re damp, not wet.
    2. Apply cream or ointment to your skin.
    3. Put on the damp pajamas, followed by a pair of dry pajamas, and wear the ensemble for several hours.

    Dampness makes your skin more permeable and better able to absorb hydrating products. If the wet wrap or over-the-counter products aren’t working for you, talk with a dermatologist about prescription skin hydration options. 

    Drinking more water isn’t the answer to dry winter skin. The best solution is to apply fragrance-free cream or ointment directly to damp skin. Get more cold weather #SkinCareTips from a dermatologist in this blog:
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    5. Don’t confuse skin conditions with dryness.

    Skin conditions are often mistaken for dry skin because peeling or flaking are common symptoms. Redness of the skin or itching in addition to dryness and flaking indicates a skin condition that may need more than an over-the-counter moisturizer.

    Skin cells are anchored together by a lipid and protein layer (like a brick and mortar wall). With very dry skin, the seal on this wall or barrier is not fully intact and water evaporates out of the skin’s surface. The skin will become itchy and red in addition to scaly or flaky. If you experience these symptoms, visit with a dermatologist.

    6. Don’t wait for symptoms to take care of dry skin.

    Be proactive—the best way to maintain moisture is to apply hydrating creams and ointments directly to your skin on a regular basis. Start by applying them as part of your morning routine. Once you get used to that, add a nighttime application. And carry a container of it when you’re on the go or keep it in an easily accessible location at work.


    You can’t avoid dry air, but you can take precautions to reduce its harsh effects on your skin. If over-the-counter products don’t seem to help, our dermatologists can provide an individualized treatment plan. Hydrated skin is healthy skin!

    Does your skin get drier as the air gets colder?

    Our dermatologists can help.

    Call 202-877-DOCS (3627) or Request an Appointment

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  • July 12, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    For many years, the gold standard for surgical treatment of certain painful neck conditions has been a procedure called anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. This surgery can effectively relieve pain, but it limits the patient’s range of motion and places more stress on the discs above and below the fusion.

    Fortunately, today we have the technology to perform cervical disc arthroplasty (replacement)–placing an artificial disc between two vertebrae in the neck. This procedure allows people to retain their range of motion and recover in just days, and not the weeks needed after fusion surgery.

    LISTEN: Dr. Tannous’ full podcast on the latest advances in spine surgery including cervical disc replacement.

    Not all spine surgeons have adopted this technology. Those of us who have find it to be a phenomenal treatment option for some patients with painful neck conditions such as cervical disc herniation. Let’s discuss how it works.

    “We can treat some neck-related arm pain with disc replacement. It can avoid a spine fusion.” via @MedStarWHC

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    How does cervical disc arthroplasty work?

    The cervical spine is the portion of the spine in the neck. There are six discs in the cervical spine that rest between the vertebrae, the bones that make up the spinal column. The discs are spongy and act as shock absorbers.

    When there’s a problem with a disc, the spinal cord or nerves can be compressed or pinched. This can cause neck pain, along with arm pain, numbness or weakness.

    Traditionally, when physical therapy and medication didn’t relieve the pain, the main surgical option was anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. We would take the disc out and replace it with a piece of bone, a metal plate and screws that over time would fuse the vertebrae and stabilize that part of the cervical spine. The surgery relieves pain, but you lose some range of motion because there is no longer movement between the fused vertebrae.

    In cervical disc arthroplasty, instead of fusing vertebrae together, we replace the disc with an implant that mimics your normal disc motion. It basically functions as a joint that allows normal range of motion and reduces stress on the discs above and below.

    The FDA approved the first cervical disc implant in the U.S. in 2007. This allowed us to replace one problematic disc. In 2013, the first device was approved to replace two adjacent problematic discs.

    Who might benefit from this technique?

    Cervical disc replacement can help people with conditions such as these if non-surgical treatments did not work:

    • Cervical disc herniation
    • Cervical radiculopathy
    • Cervical spinal stenosis
    • Degenerative disc disease

    We typically use this procedure on patients younger than 60. The main reason for this is because most people 60 and older have a fair amount of arthritis in the neck. Cervical arthroplasty doesn’t cure the arthritis, so the neck pain can remain. In these cases, we recommend traditional surgery.

    Find out if you are a candidate for cervical arthroplasty.

    Request an Appointment

    Recovery takes days, not weeks

    The most amazing part about this technique other than sparing your range of motion is the short recovery period.

    When we do a traditional fusion, you may be in a brace up to 12 weeks. This immobilizes the neck to allow the fusion to take place.

    But when we do a disc replacement, we don’t want to lock up your motion for very long. I usually put my patients in a brace for a couple days to help with the swelling, but then I want them out of the brace and going about their normal activities.

    We’ve had patients who had surgery on Friday and were back to work on Monday. I tell people to do what they can tolerate. I don’t restrict activity too much. Don’t engage in extreme ranges of motion or participate in contact sports right away, but go about your daily activities.

    If you’re experiencing neck and arm pain due to disc herniation or cervical spinal stenosis, you may not need surgery at all. About 75 percent of our patients get better using physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications or steroid injections. It’s only after we’ve exhausted those options that we talk about surgery.

    If you’re in that small group who needs surgery, ask your doctor if you’re a candidate for cervical arthroplasty. You may be able to find pain relief without the frustration of losing range of motion in your neck.

    Brian Paul, DMD was a perfect candidate for cervical disc replacement. Read his story here.

  • July 11, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    Maria Alessandri finally got the treatment she needed to relieve her extreme fatigue and dizzy spells when Dr. Theresa Caridi diagnosed her with a rare lung condition.
  • July 11, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    A multigenerational gift made by the family of the late Betty Lou Ourisman will honor her and benefit the Breast Health Center named after her.
  • July 11, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    Diane was living in Georgia in 2014 when she noticed a small bump in her mouth. She has had sustained success with immunotherapy to treat a rare cancer in her liver and right lung.
  • July 11, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    David didn’t miss a beat of his active life during treatment for his prostate cancer. CyberKnife therapy provides targeted treatment in as few as five sessions, with fewer side effects.
  • July 11, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    A fractured wrist proved a fortuitous twist of fate for Bill. Dr. Kessler not only repaired damage in Bill’s wrist from a recent fall but also reversed the effects of the lingering spasticity.