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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:
    Click to Tweet


    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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  • December 04, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Edited Jan. 5, 2017: Due to unforeseen circumstances not within our control, Research Grand Rounds on January 6, 2017 has been CANCELLED. We hope to reschedule Dr. Aviles-Santa for a later date and look forward to seeing you at the February Research Grand Rounds.

    Research Grand Rounds are sponsored by MHRI and Georgetown-Howard Universities Center for Clinical and Translational Science (GHUCCTS) and bring together the MedStar Health community for a learning experience focusing on a different topic each month.

    The Research Grand Rounds are open to all members of the research team, from principal investigators to clinical and research coordinators and trainees. Topics covered in the Research Grand Rounds can range from community-focused research to best practices with the intention of increasing collaboration within the research community both within and outside of MedStar Health.

    The Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos: Building the Project, Baseline findings, and Future Research Opportunities

    Presented by M. Larissa Avilés-Santa, MD, MPH, Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, NHLBI

    January 6, 2017

    12 Noon to 1 PM – Presentation                                             

    1 PM to 1:30 PM – Lunch

    MedStar Washington Hospital Center, 6th Floor, CTEC Theater

    110 Irving Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 20010


    View the listing of the FY17 Grand Rounds.

  • December 04, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Congratulations to all researchers who were published in November 2016. There were 99 peer-reviewed studies published in 51 journals that are part of the body of work completed by MedStar Health investigators, physicians, and associates. We look forward to seeing your future research.

    Selected research:

    1. Exercise Training for Persons with Alzheimer's Disease and Caregivers: A Review of Dyadic Exercise Interventions.
      Journal of Motor Behavior, November 2016. DOI: 1080/00222895.2016.1241739
      Lamotte G, Shah RC, Lazarov O, Corcos DM.
    2. Going Viral: Importance of Viral Pathogens in Nonventilated Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia.
      Chest, November 2016. doi: 1016/j.chest.2016.05.028
      Shorr AF, Zilberberg MD.
    3. Intestinal Transplant Inflammation: the Third Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
      Current Gastroenterology Reports, November 2016. DOI: 1007/s11894-016-0530-0
      Kroemer A, Cosentino C, Kaiser J, Matsumoto CS, Fishbein TM.
    4. Efficacy and Safety of LixiLan, a Titratable Fixed-Ratio Combination of Insulin Glargine Plus Lixisenatide in Type 2 Diabetes Inadequately Controlled on Basal Insulin and Metformin: The LixiLan-L Randomized Trial.
      Diabetes Care, November 2016. DOI: 2337/dc16-1495
      Aroda VR, Rosenstock J, Wysham C, Unger J, Bellido D, González-Gálvez G, Takami A, Guo H, Niemoeller E, Souhami E, Bergenstal RM; LixiLan-L Trial Investigators.
    5. Identifying visual search patterns in eye gaze data; gaining insights into physician visual workflow.
      Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, November 2016. DOI: 1093/jamia/ocv196
      Fong A, Hoffman DJ, Zachary Hettinger A, Fairbanks RJ, Bisantz AM.

    View the full list of publications on here.

  • December 01, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    An estimated 13% of people with HIV don't know they have the virus, leaving it to cause severe damage that could be avoided with treatment.
  • November 29, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Many Americans with chronic acid reflux swear by proton pump inhibitors. But are these common over-the-counter medications safe for long-term use?
  • November 29, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Nearly 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas each year. In the vast majority of these cases — approximately 95 percent — patients have one specific type of cancer: adenocarcinoma of the pancreas.

    The remaining 5 percent of pancreatic cancer patients have different treatment options and prognoses.

    A Brutal Disease

    As with any cancer, when one of the body's mechanisms for controlling the growth of abnormal cells breaks down, those atypical cells begin to divide rapidly and form one or more tumors.

    After a person develops a pancreatic tumor, many of the cancer cells can spread outside this organ. Some of those tumor cells will travel to other body parts via the bloodstream or lymphatic system. Most often, they go to the liver, lungs and abdominal cavity.

    Pancreatic cancer is particularly deadly because of the pancreas' location ― in the middle of the abdomen and close to vital organs. Also, tumors that develop in the pancreas typically do not cause symptoms until they have grown to cause symptoms in the area of the pancreas, or have even spread to other parts of the body. As a result, doctors often find and diagnose pancreatic cancer when it has already reached a more advanced stage than other cancers.

    In fact, about 60 percent of the time, a patient's pancreatic cancer has already spread by the time he or she receives a diagnosis. In another 20 to 25 percent of cases, the cancer hasn't yet spread at the time of diagnosis, but is inoperable.

    Even when pancreatic cancers are detected at early stages, they tend to be extremely aggressive. In fact, more than 70 percent of pancreatic cancers that are successfully operated on still lead to death.

    Treatment Options

    Pancreatic cancer treatment involves a multidisciplinary effort. A surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, and others work together to determine which actions and therapies should have the most desirable outcomes.

    Only 10 to 20 percent of pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed with an operable cancer, the only type of pancreatic cancer that can be cured. Inoperable cancers can be controlled or treated, but not cured. Sometimes, an inoperable cancer treated with radiation therapy or chemotherapy can be rendered operable.

    When a patient has an incurable form of pancreatic cancer, chemotherapy is usually helpful.

    Without chemotherapy, the symptoms of cancer can be devastating. These include severe pain, chronic fatigue and extreme weight loss. Chemotherapy can stabilize and even shrink tumors, weakening their physical impact and causing patients to feel better. Plus, chemotherapy regimens have become more effective in recent years, and their side effects are generally short-term and cyclical, allowing a patient to maintain a relatively high quality of life despite being on chemotherapy

    New Research, New Hope

    Research into pancreatic cancer is going strong. Medical experts are exploring a wide range of drugs and therapies and dozens of clinical trials are underway.

    If you get a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, a second opinion is vital, and it's important to see oncologists and specialists with extensive experience. In addition, try to go to a medical facility that offers innovative pancreatic cancer treatment options. With personalized, cutting-edge care, you should be able to fight the cancer, and maintain as high a quality of life as possible, for as long as possible.

  • November 22, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Improved Hearing May Decrease, Delay Dementia

    Over the last few years, medical researchers made an interesting discovery: Severe hearing loss, in and of itself, contributes to and worsens cognitive decline and dementia among the elderly. While the chicken/egg relationship is not exactly clear—nor the mechanics of how or why—the effect is circular, with one condition feeding upon the other. Both lead to frustration, social withdrawal, depression and anxiety, causing many elderly patients to lose the ability to communicate with or understand the family, friends and others who love and care for them.

    But a 2015 study in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery demonstrated marked improvements in thinking and memory skills after hearing- and cognitive-impaired patients received a sophisticated type of hearing device, a cochlear implant.

    So why aren’t more patients with both dementia and profound hearing loss receiving the same treatment? The answer may lie in the procedure itself.

    "Typically, a patient undergoing a cochlear implant receives general anesthesia,” says Selena Heman-Ackah Briggs, MD, a head and neck surgeon specializing in hearing loss and ear disease at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. The Hospital Center was the first and, for many years, only site in the metropolitan area to offer cochlear implants for adults. “Yet anesthesia is a known risk factor for patients who are already experiencing cognitive decline, especially if they also have other problems like heart or lung disease.”

    To resolve the dilemma, Dr. Briggs began substituting local sedation for her elderly cochlear implant patients.

    "The milder anesthetic lets patients rest comfortably and breathe on their own during the ‘twilight’ procedure, while reducing the risk of complications,” she says. “In-hospital recovery time is cut almost in half, with patients going home the same day.”

    Unlike traditional hearing aids which merely amplify sound, cochlear implants rely upon a sophisticated system of microphones, speech processors, transmitters and other complex parts to interpret and convey electrical impulses directly to the brain. As such, recipients must go through training sessions with audiologists to learn how to “hear” with their new device.

    Despite their age, patient response has been remarkable, according to Dr. Briggs.

    "Most of my elderly patients are just so excited about being able to hear again,” she says. “Through cochlear implant, we’re restoring their ability to communicate, to be active and functional, and stay in the game of life.”

    To listen to Dr. Briggs’s full podcast interview, click here.

    Our specialists are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss. Ready to schedule an appointment? Call us at


    As heard on WTOP Radio:

    Selena Heman-Ackah, MD

    Selena Heman-Ackah Briggs, MD MedStar Washington Hospital Center

    For an appointment, call 202-877-3627.