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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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  • August 03, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    Peripheral Vascular Disease is a potentially serious, but treatable circulation problem. It occurs when the vessels that supply blood flow to the legs are narrowed. PVD is typically caused by atherosclerosis, or plaque build-up inside the vessel walls.
  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    Retired Cardiologist
    Start Date: 1958


    A Penny for Your Thoughts…

    In 1958, I completed my residency at the National Institutes of Health and joined MedStar Washington Hospital Center's staff, where I was asked to develop an equipment list for the new cardiac lab.

    We were just entering the age of good measurement of the physiological determination of cardiac events. We needed new equipment to improve the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. I didn't know what to charge for my services in helping develop the list for the lab, so I asked my fiancé, now my wife, and she suggested that I charge $100. So I did.

    From Creative Improvisation…

    We had to be pretty creative in the beginning, because equipment was crude and funds were scarce. When it came time to perform catheterizations to obtain measurements of key cardiac parameters, we had to make our own catheters. We had to take plastic tubing made in Sweden, put the tubes in boiling water and shape them to the desired configuration.

    When we needed wires for arterial guides, I started using guitar "G" strings. The strings were available from a local music store. After I used a string twice, I had to throw it out. When I started buying 12 of the "G" strings at a time, the salesman thought that I must play a mean guitar.

    … to Creative Financing

    Early on, when a patient suffered a cardiac arrest, we had to cut open the patient's chest and put our hand inside to massage and squeeze the heart to get it started again. External electric cardioversion was developed around the same time and was becoming the standard of care. We were short of money so I went to a hospital administrator and asked for an electrocardioverter to shock the heart into normal rhythm. This was to avoid having to resort to surgery. I remember that I received an interesting answer. The administrator said, "If we got all the medical equipment you young guys wanted, we would go broke." So I used some funds from a personal grant that I had in order to buy the hospital's first cardioverter equipment.

  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    Before MedStar Washington Hospital Center even opened it doors in 1958, doctors were instrumental in planning and shaping the new organization.
  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    Former Chief of Neurosurgery
    1958 - 1972


    JFK's secretary, Mrs. Lincoln; Robert F. Kennedy; Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Edgar J. Hoover are but a few of the famous names that sought care at the hands of Hugo V. Rizzoli, one of the most prominent neurosurgeons in Washington, during his long career. Now 91, Dr. Rizzoli, MedStar Washington Hospital Center's first chief of neurosurgery, still receives occasional calls for physician consults as well as care from "a few old patients who are crazy enough to continue to want to see me!" he says.

    He vividly remembers his first day at the new MedStar Washington Hospital Center in 1958.

    I was chief of neurosurgery at Emergency Hospital (after having been chief at Walter Reed) and had a patient with a serious brain aneurysm. I had operated on him a few days earlier, but he was by no means out of the woods. I told Emergency's administrator - Dr. Warwick Brown, a retired vice admiral, who then became MedStar Washington Hospital Center's first administrator - that they MUST keep the OR open for me, even as other departments were shutting down for the move to the new hospital. After a couple of days of this, Dr. Brown finally said, "Hugo, we've got to go. I can't keep the hospital open any longer." And I said, "My patient can't be jostled - how are we going to move him?"

    Well, Dr. Brown made arrangements with the Police Department, who escorted us on motorcycles all the way from the old Emergency Hospital on New York Avenue to MedStar Washington Hospital Center. They surrounded the ambulance, with some going ahead to block off streets so we'd never have to stop or change speed. Others followed to re-open the streets after we passed. It worked, and I admitted my first patient to MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

    The new hospital was an amazing place, both in terms of its physical structure and approach. It was a community hospital but ahead of its time. Open heart surgery was just on the horizon, and right from the get-go, they recognized that opportunity and along with it, the need to have both a full-time chief of medicine, Brigadier General Thomas W. Mattingly, and a chief of surgery, Dr. Nicholas P.D. Smyth. Outside of a university hospital, full-time chairmen were unheard of!

    Of course, the Hospital Center then went on to become one of the foremost hospitals in the world for cardiovascular care, along with many other "firsts." It was and still is a real innovator.


    In 1972, I was invited to become the first full-time Chief of the Department of Neurosurgery at George Washington University Medical School. When I talked to my wife about it, she said, "Take it. I'm tired of feeding you dinner at 11 p.m.!"

    But I maintained my involvement with MedStar Washington Hospital Center. In the late 1960s, I had established a joint neurosurgery residency program with the Hospital Center and GW. When I became head of the department at GW, I held all my Saturday morning resident conferences at the Hospital Center to make sure everyone realized how important it was to the program.

  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    Obstetrics and Gynecology
    Started in 1993 as a Resident
    Joined the Staff in 1997


    Was it nerve wracking as a new nurse, tech, intern or resident? You bet. But those of us who worked with Lillian Morse, a retired surgical tech from Labor and Delivery, will always remember and be thankful for her mentoring ways.

    Lillian was a fixture in Labor and Delivery and always looked out for other employees, especially the new ones, literally reaching out to help them. When I was a resident in the operating room just barely learning procedures and wondering what to ask for next, Lillian would put the instrument in my hand before I would even ask for it. She would say "Here, this is what you need next" without saying anything more.

    A dedicated surgical tech, she taught many about the standard operating procedures they were just getting used to performing and made a lasting impact on a generation of employees. She would take new students, new nurses and new residents under her wing and make sure they learned how to scrub, gown and glove properly. She had a great personality, was positive, supportive and helpful.

    Lillian was dedicated to the Obstetrics unit and arrived early before her shift every day and well before surgery started. She made sure the OR was well-stocked every morning, was a constant presence and made things run smoothly for everyone.

  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    Internal Medicine
    1958 - 1998


    In March of 1958, I was an intern at the old Garfield Hospital so by default, I became a member of the first medical resident class at MedStar Washington Hospital Center when Garfield's operations transferred over. A mere month later, our first child, Susan Elizabeth, was born here, further assuring that 1958 - and my introduction to MedStar Washington Hospital Center - would forever remain in my mind.

    MedStar Washington Hospital Center was a revelation - a great, modern building, with private and semi-private rooms where Garfield and the other old hospitals all had wards. That took some getting used to! I don't know if we were aware of it then, but all of medicine was on the cusp of going through a dramatic change. At the time, specialists and sub-specialists were pretty rare and general practitioners did almost everything - from caring for patients with infectious diseases like TB and spotted fever to delivering babies.

    This was also before the advent of all the changes in medical financing, like Medicaid, reimbursement rates and so on. My first year in private practice I made $11,000 from fee-for-service - I thought I was a millionaire! But because there were so few "safety nets" for poor patients who couldn't afford care, the Hospital Center also operated a clinic. I remember volunteering there half a day, every week, to work for free. A lot of us did.

    Then as now, the Hospital Center cared for the most complex cases. But by today's standards, the weapons in medicine's arsenal in 1958 were quite limited. We didn't yet know about cholesterol and lipids, and didn't have any effective drugs to treat high blood pressure. All we had was insulin, penicillin, streptomycin, sulfonamides, digitalis, Pitocin, Thorazine, phenobarbital - that was about it. Compare that to today's PDR - it's at least three inches thick!