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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 20, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Whether from high heels, heritage or happenstance, painful bunions can cramp your style. But practical tactics and specialty medical care can get you back on your feet.
  • December 19, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    GERD: A Common but Serious Condition

    Nearly 20 percent of Americans suffer from regular bouts of heartburn, acid indigestion and other symptoms of chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).  A fortunate few find relief through lifestyle modifications such as losing weight, avoiding certain foods, elevating the head of the bed and not eating within three hours of going to sleep, among others. But many more must turn to medication to tame that burning, painful sensation.

    For the last two decades, the most popular and effective GERD medicine on the market, both prescription and over-the-counter, has been a class of drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).

    “The original PPI was first approved in the United States in 1989 for the short-term treatment of ulcers,” explains Timothy Koch, MD, a gastroenterologist and bariatric specialist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “When doctors saw how well it worked on the symptoms of ulcers, they started to wonder if PPIs would be effective for persistent heartburn, as well.”

    As everyone now knows, the answer was a resounding “yes.” But more recently, scientists have been asking, “For how long?”

    “Over the last few years, there have been many studies looking at whether long-term PPI use contributes to gut infections, bone loss, chronic kidney disease and even dementia,” Dr. Koch says.  “While findings suggest an association, we don’t have any definitive answers yet.”

    Untreated GERD can damage the food pipe, and contribute to Barrett’s esophagus, a risk factor for esophageal cancer, so it’s important not to ignore.  

    “Through endoscopy and other specialized studies we can look for scar tissue and other irritation, measure problems with swallowing, and otherwise evaluate each patient to see if there is another cause of their discomfort…and possibly an alternative to long-term PPI treatment,” he adds.

    As a precaution, Dr. Koch recommends that people who have been taking more than one PPI a day for many years seek a thorough medical re-evaluation to see if they still need—and are benefitting from— the medication.

    Listen in on Dr. Koch's full interview. 

    Our specialists are experts in the care of gastroesophageal reflux disease.  For an appointment, call us at


    As heard on WTOP Radio:

    Dr. Timothy Koch

    Timothy Koch, MD
    MedStar Washington Hospital Center

    For an appointment, call 202-877-3627.


  • December 15, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Simultaneous Bilateral Cataract Surgery lets patients have cataract surgery on both eyes, on the same day, The procedure sparks debate among physicians.
  • December 14, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    For some people who have lung cancer, immunotherapy can be an effective tool because it relies on the body's immune system to eliminate cancer cells. Targeted therapies, on the other hand, do not directly affect the immune system; instead, they directly attack specific cancerous cells. Targeted therapy is meant for a small, defined population of lung cancer patients.

    Targeted therapy acknowledges that lung cancer is not one diseaseThere are dozens of types of lung cancer, and each behaves differently. These different types of cancers require individualized types of treatment.

    As medicine has come to understand those differences more completely, targeted therapies have been developed to address and treat the various types of lung cancer.

    What You Should Know About Targeted Therapy

    When it comes to targeted therapy, most of the questions people have are about the testing itself. Since targeted therapy uses medication that attacks specific components of a tumor's DNA, the first step is to determine whether a tumor will react to the regimen. This requires testing of the tumor through a biopsy. The biopsy may be tested on-site or may be sent out to another institution, but results are generally available in a matter of days.

    When the biopsy reveals a mutation, an oncologist will work with you to determine which type of targeted therapy will be most effective against that particular mutation.

    You should know that there are three specific DNA mutations for which the FDA has approved drugs for advanced lung cancer. These drugs are superior to chemotherapy and can begin working immediately. They typically come in the form of a pill taken once or twice a day and offer better responses than chemotherapy.

    Even if the mutations that doctors expect are not present, your doctor can work with you to search for other mutations that can be treated with targeted therapies. Otherwise, you may move on to chemotherapy, an appropriate treatment approach.

    Keep in mind that there may also be clinical trials that are available to patients with certain types of mutations.

    How Targeted Therapies Influence Patient Care

    Today, standard DNA and biopsy tests should be done on virtually everyone with lung cancer in the United States. Be aware that insurance may not cover more advanced tests, and that out-of-pocket expenses can be high. Don't despair, there are many assistance programs designed to help people afford advanced testing.

    While advanced targeted therapies can work very well, they are not a "cure," and it is important for patients to temper their expectations accordingly. If a particular drug stops working, doctors will determine how the target has changed, and address the new reality accordingly.

    While targeted therapies are effective for only a small percentage of lung cancer patients, they can be a well-tolerated and efficient form of medication that is intended for long-term administration. While they do not "cure" cancer, they can offer a durable solution that opens up a whole new cabinet of potential treatments for lung cancer patients.

    As time goes on, doctors hope to identify more mutations and to offer more specific, targeted therapies to help improve the prognosis for other lung cancer patients.

  • December 13, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Tune in to the full podcast interview with Dr. Thakkar.

    If knee or hip pain is starting to limit your life, it’s time to think about repairing or replacing those aching joints, rather than retiring from the game. And the sooner you seek help, the better, experts agree.

    In fact, one of the worst things you can do with deteriorating joints is postpone surgery until the pain is so bad that you can no longer walk, golf or engage in other activities. That’s because waiting until your condition worsens can make you sedentary, introducing a whole host of other problems.

    “Restricting activity often leads to weight gain which can aggravate an already compromised knee or hip joint,” says orthopedic surgeon Savyasachi Thakkar, MD, of MedStar Orthopaedic Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “Plus lack of use can weaken your muscles and slow your recovery from surgery.”

    Along those same lines, Dr. Thakkar also cautions against waiting until you’re older to consider joint replacement.

    “Surgery can improve your quality of life for years to come. So, even if you’re under 50, don’t think you’re too young for the procedure.”

    Technological advances over the years have resulted in shorter hospital stays, less pain and faster recovery. Additionally, new, improved materials are far more durable, reducing the chances of a repeat replacement in the future. Studies show that between 60 to 70 percent of patients today can expect their joint replacement to last 25 to 30 years.

    The fear of being bed-ridden after surgery, with little or no return to normal range of motion, is another persistent myth.

    “I schedule hip replacement surgeries, which typically take about two hours, in the morning, and we may have you up and walking by noon,” Dr. Thakkar says. “You could be walking soon after knee surgery, too.”

    Some activities may be restricted during the first six to eight weeks of recovery, based on the procedure performed. But soon thereafter, patients can expect to resume their usual activities with a full range of motion.

    “Joint replacement surgery has advanced tremendously over the last few years,” Dr. Thakkar concludes. “The minute joint pain affects you—your work, quality of life, or ability to live independently—you should see a specialist for an initial evaluation. We can help you live your life fully, in balance and pain-free.”

    Tune in to the full podcast interview with Dr. Thakkar.

    Want more podcasts? Listen or subscribe on iTunes or iHeartRadio.

  • December 08, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Marathon runner Michael Spinelli was a healthy, busy junior at Catholic University. Then a sudden onset of pain revealed an aortic dissection.