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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

All Blogs

  • March 01, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    Many people avoid colonoscopies because of the time and preparation involved. Dr. James Fitzgerald discusses other screenings and how they measure up.
  • February 23, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    Did you take your medication today? 5 tips to help you stick to your medication regimen.
  • February 21, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    Women’s health care has changed dramatically over the last few years, particularly when it comes to surgery for chronic pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding and other gynecologic disorders.
  • February 20, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    How loud is too loud when listening to music with earbuds or headphones? Here's how to counteract premature hearing loss.
  • February 17, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    There are approximately 14.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S. today—a number that is expected to grow to almost 19 million by 2024, according to a recent report from the American Cancer Society (ACS). The report attributes this good news, in part, to improvements in cancer screening.

    Cancer screenings enable medical providers to catch cancer in the early stages when the disease is most treatable. That’s why they are so important. Following are screening guidelines from MedStar Health Cancer Network for a few of the most common cancers. Some individuals may need earlier or more frequent screenings depending on their risk factors. This is something you should discuss with your doctor.


    • Screenings are recommended for all women. Breast exam by a medical provider (every three years for women ages 20 to 39 and every year after age 40)
    • Annual mammograms and breast exams by a medical provider for women ages 40 and older, or younger if at high risk


    Screenings are recommended for all women age 21 and older, or upon becoming sexually active.

    • Periodic Pap tests with frequency based on age (after three normal tests, a woman may need less frequently)

    Free breast and cervical screenings are available to women who are age 40 and older, with limited income and are uninsured or underinsured. Call 410-350-2066 to see if you qualify.


    Screenings are recommended for all adults age 50 and older, or younger if at high risk.

    • Colonoscopy every 10 years
    • Fecal occult blood test every year
    • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, or
    • Double-contrast barium enema every
      five years

    Free colorectal screenings are available to individuals age 50 and older, with limited income, and uninsured or underinsured. Call 410-350-8216 to see if you qualify.


    Screenings are recommended for individuals who are at high risk based on the following criteria:

    • 55 to 77 years of age
    • A smoker of a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years or more
    • Currently smoking or have quit fewer than 15 years ago


    Screenings can be beneficial for men age 50 and older, or younger if at high risk. Men should talk to their medical provider about the value of two tests:

    • Digital rectal exams
    • Prostate-specific antigen blood tests

    This article appeared in the winter 2017 issue of Good Health. Read more articles from this issue.

    Learn More

    Learn more about cancer screening and diagnosis.

  • February 17, 2017

    By MedStar Health

    Everyone knows somebody who never seems to get sick. But did you ever wonder why? It’s not because they are able to avoid exposure to germs. That’s nearly impossible! It’s because their immune system is able to keep them healthy.

    According to Jessica DeCostole, MS, RD, a dietitian educator in the Good Health Center at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital, there are a number of simple ways to build an immune system that can help you stay well and avoid illness.

    “Many people eat a lot of junk and processed foods over the holidays and don’t get the exercise or sleep they need. This can have a negative impact on your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds and the flu,” she explains.

    Eat a Balanced Diet

    “You need many nutrients to support your immune system,” DeCostole says. “So focus on eating whole foods that provide lots of vitamins and minerals. Making healthier food choices and eating lighter will help you feel better and lose weight, if that is a goal.”

    Stay Hydrated

    Many people find it hard to stay hydrated during the winter months. Poor hydration weakens the immune system and can lead to nutritional and other imbalances that can cause health problems. “Being properly hydrated can help you lose weight, too,” she adds. “In fact, many people mistake thirst for hunger, causing them to consume calories they don’t need.”


    Exercising is not only a great way to get in shape, it also increases your immune function, improves sleep quality and makes you stronger. “Studies have shown that moderate intensity exercise may cut down on the number of colds you get,” DeCostole says.

    Get Seven to Eight Hours of Sleep

    Not getting enough sleep has been linked to many health problems, including those that stem from an impaired immune system.“Sleep loss influences how we fight illnesses,” she notes. “If you can, sleep at least seven to eight hours a day.” By adopting just a few healthy habits, you can do wonders for your immune system. That’s the key to staying well all year long.

    This article appeared in the winter 2017 issue of Good Health. Read more articles from this issue.

    Location Information

    MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital
    Good Health Center
    5601 Loch Raven Blvd.
    2nd Floor, O'Neill Building
    Baltimore, MD 21239

    Request a Healthy Recipes Guide

    Call 443-444-3991 to request a free Healthy Recipes Guide.

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