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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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  • October 19, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Our pharmacists play a vital role in ensuring safe and effective medication use, counseling patients and providing drug information to health providers. Here are 5 top things our pharmacists want you to know about using medication wisely.
  • October 18, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    By the time John Hume, now 48, reached MedStar Georgetown University Hospital by ambulance, “I was a cascading catastrophe,” he recalls. Diagnosed and treated by his family doctor for a mild case of ulcerative colitis, John had seen his condition quickly progress to a critical point with an uncertain outcome. He needed immediate expert attention.

    Ulcerative colitis is just one of a group of diseases known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes inflammation and sores— ulcers—in the lining of the rectum and colon. The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis are abdominal pain and frequent bloody diarrhea. Weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite and joint pain are other common symptoms.

    According to Aline Charabaty, MD, director of the MedStar Georgetown Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, ulcerative colitis affects the body’s immune system, specifically in the gut and colon. Organisms and bacteria in the gut can act as triggers and lead to chronic inflammation. Other potential triggers include certain medications and a western diet and lifestyle.

    “When I first met John, he was dehydrated, had dangerously low blood pressure and was experiencing severe abdominal pain,” Dr. Charabaty recalls. “He was having more than seven to eight bloody bowel movements a day.

    His colonoscopy revealed severe inflammation of the colon, nearly the worst I’d ever seen. And he had lost 60 pounds in less than three months.”

    Dr. Charabaty often treats patients with unusually severe IBD symptoms that require personalized treatment considerations. “We have many skilled IBD specialists with a wide range of experience and, because of our research program, access to new medications and clinical trials that aren’t available at other hospitals,” says Dr. Charabaty.

    Guided by her experience, Dr. Charabaty prescribed Remicade, an immunosuppressant medication used to treat severe ulcerative colitis symptoms. She tested dosage and timing of the medication with John until his body began to respond— an innovative and personalized approach at the time; it is now a standard course of treatment. “We needed to control the severe inflammation quickly or John was headed for colectomy, or surgical removal of part or all of his colon,” she recalls.

    Dr. Charabaty made me feel like I was the most important person in the world during my treatment.

    John hume, Patient

    “It was such a trying time for me, even beyond the stress of the flare-ups and my physical weakness,” says John. “Dr. Charabaty worked hard to determine the best treatment option for me.”

    “Our goal is to unburden them and their families by working as a team to help patients take charge of their disease,” says Dr. Charabaty. “John was amazing. He had a very positive attitude despite the severity of his symptoms.”

    “It’s hard living with a chronic disease like ulcerative colitis, but I feel really lucky,” John says. A federal employee from Mechanicsville, Md., he now works a modified schedule and has adjusted his diet to manage his weight and symptoms. And he is determined to educate others about ulcerative colitis.

    “Dr. Charabaty made me feel like I was the most important person in the world during my treatment,” he recalls. “And I still get a hug when I see her for follow-up care. My wife, Judy, and I consider Dr. Charabaty part of our family.”

    Learn More

    To learn more about the services offered at the Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, visit or call 202-444-4639 to make an appointment.

  • October 18, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    By Leslie Whitlinger

    Lakita Thomas, of Washington, D.C., is much more accustomed to providing care than receiving it. After all, she has four kids and two grandkids. But after a month of heavy bleeding, the then-clinical tech at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital couldn’t deny the obvious any more: She needed to see a doctor, sooner rather than later.

    So Lakita sought help where so many other women do—at the well-respected Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at MedStar Georgetown. Staffed with board-certified specialists, the department offers a broad range of services for women at every stage of life, from infertility evaluation, treatment, and management of normal and high-risk pregnancies to perimenopause and menopausal health to gynecologic cancer care.

    Under the care of James Benson, MD, a MedStar Georgetown specialist in minimally invasive surgery, treatment of fibroids and high-risk pregnancies, Lakita learned that she had a very large fibroid—a common but benign uterine tumor and one of the most frequent causes of extended heavy bleeding. Unlike women seeking treatment for fibroids in the past, Lakita had her pick of treatment options.

    “Patients are often surprised at the variety of fibroid therapies now available,” says Dr. Benson. “Today’s medications and outpatient surgical procedures have greatly reduced the need for abdominal hysterectomy, which was a woman’s only option years ago.”

    At 41, Lakita’s best options were hormone pills (birth control) or a minimally invasive, laparoscopic hysterectomy, which permanently ends periods and heavy bleeding. She picked the latter, as do about 20 to 25 percent of Dr. Benson’s other patients.

    During the procedure, a tiny incision is made through the belly button, followed by the insertion of a miniature camera to capture real- time images of the fibroid’s exact location and size. Carbon dioxide is then pumped into the stomach, acting like a balloon to push other organs out of the way to create space for the surgeon to see and work. Fibroids and the uterus are removed together, typically through the vagina. Many patients go home the same day, with some able to return to work within two to three weeks.

    Because of such advancements, only about 10 to 20 percent of patients at MedStar Georgetown undergo the more surgically invasive abdominal hysterectomy today. Abdominal hysterectomies typically require a three- to four-day hospitalization and up to eight weeks for recovery. That’s one reason why Dr. Benson cautions women not to put off seeking care for abnormal gynecologic symptoms.

    “Anyone with fibroids who experiences excessive bleeding should see her Ob/Gyn as soon as possible,” he advises. “There’s no need to suffer. Plus, waiting too long may reduce treatment options.”

    Lakita successfully underwent the minimally invasive surgery in February 2015, and woke up with “zero pain.” And she’s very glad she sought treatment when she did.

    “Having a laparoscopic hysterectomy was an easy decision—hands down!” Lakita says today. “Dr. Benson was very informative and laid everything out so I could make my choice with confidence. Thanks to him and the staff at MedStar Georgetown, I regained my quality of life!”

    Learn More

    MedStar Georgetown offers comprehensive care and treatment for women with fibroids and other gynecological conditions.

    To learn more about the Ob/Gyn services available at MedStar Georgetown, or to make an appointment, visit or call 202-295-0544.

  • October 18, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    According to the American Cancer Society, one in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer within their lifetime - and of those cases, one in 39 will prove to be fatal. However, with early detection, prostate cancer is very treatable, with both surgical and nonsurgical interventions.

    And one of the most promising nonsurgical treatments emerging as a new option for prostate cancer patients  is called CyberKnife®. This treatment uses targeted beams of radiation to the prostate, sparing the surrounding healthy tissue - including critical structures like the bladder and rectum.

    But how does CyberKnife® benefit our patients?

    Fewer Treatments and Side Effects with CyberKnife®

    The MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute was the first in the mid-Atlantic region to offer CyberKnife®, and is one of the most experienced in the world to use this technology. And Sean Collins, MD, a radiation oncologist who is a leading expert in the procedure, says one of the most significant benefits of CyberKnife® is the reduced number of treatments required.

    “For many men, the CyberKnife® requires only five treatments instead of the standard course of radiation therapy that generally requires up to 40 treatments and lasts eight to nine weeks,” says Dr. Collins.

    He also notes that side effects are similar to those a patient might experience with traditional radiation therapy, such as bladder and bowel urgency, impotence and rectal bleeding. “However, we know that quality of life is a big issue for prostate cancer patients, and with the CyberKnife®, we typically have fewer side effects—both short and long term.”

    “I even hit golf balls in the days between my treatments,” said Neal Bobys, 68, who was the 1,000th CyberKnife® under. Dr. Collins. “I’ve had no pain from the treatment at all. Nothing about my daily life has changed because I have prostate cancer. I now look forward to getting on with my active life and improving my golf game.”

    CyberKnife® vs. Traditional Radiation Therapy

    In your body, prostates move and adjust with rectal and bladder filling. To account for this range of motion, conventional radiation therapy requires the use of large treatment margins. To protect the adjacent bladder and rectum, this treatment for prostate cancer is given five days per week over eight weeks.

    CyberKnife® is unique in that it tracts prostate motion and adjust for it allowing for smaller treatment margins. It’s also more precise, given that it can deliver the required amount of radiation from hundreds of directions.

    “Another benefit to CyberKnife® is that studies show that higher doses of radiation decrease the risk of the prostate cancer coming back.”

    In fact, a recent study of CyberKnife® - in which the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital was one of over 20 participating centers - has shown promising results over longer periods of time, with high rates of biochemical control and low high-grade toxicity. In addition, it's proven as highly convenient for patients.

    "But the important thing about this study is that the patients are actually followed for five years," says Dr. Collins. "And in that timeframe, we still see a very low rate of late toxicity with adequate follow-up. For our patients, that means, instead of going for eight weeks of daily radiation an hour a day, Monday through Friday, you can actually get your treatment done in five treatments over one to two weeks."

    You Need a Team in Your Corner

    CyberKnife® is a new chapter of hope for prostate cancer patients - because it doesn’t matter if you have a new, early-stage diagnosis, have already undergone radiation therapy or are too frail for surgery. CyberKnife® is an option worth exploring.

    We are here to help.

    If you have questions about the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute or are ready to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, call us at 202-295-0513 or click the request a consultation button.

  • October 18, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Sometimes the deadliest diseases can be the hardest to detect.

    Such is the case with hypertension, or high blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one-third of all adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure—a common condition that increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death for Americans.

    can cause, it is important to check blood pressure regularly and know your levels. Most local pharmacies have blood pressure cuffs and can check it for you.

    The American Heart Association defines five categories of hypertension. If your blood pressure reaches stage 1 or stage 2, you should make an appointment with your doctor to discuss treatment options. If you have a sustained blood pressure of 180/110 or higher, call your doctor right away. He or she may intervene immediately or arrange for emergency evaluation.

    At-Risk Populations

    Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise is an essential part of reducing your risk of hypertension.

    Just about anyone, at any age, can develop hypertension. However, African-Americans and women over 65 years of age are at higher risk for the disease than other groups. Other risk factors for developing high blood pressure include family history, older age, lack of physical activity, a diet high in sodium and low nutritional value, being overweight, stress, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking.

    Treatment and Prevention

    According to the CDC, only half of the people who have the disease manage it properly. Yet it is possible to prevent and treat it. A physician can prescribe medications to help lower or maintain blood pressure.

    In addition, a healthy lifestyle that includes eating a balanced diet, staying physically active and not smoking can help control blood pressure. Managing other existing health conditions may help, too.hypertension-2

    Checking your blood pressure regularly, especially if you are at a higher risk, is important to the health of your heart and arteries, and your other vital organs as well. Don’t let a silent disease become a silent killer.

    Learn More

    For more information about emergency, urgent and trauma care, visit or call 202-342-2400.

  • October 18, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    By Heidi Rosvold-Brenholtz

    When Nicholas “Nick” Cortina was born in 1993, he weighed 1 pound, 11 ounces, and fit in the palm of his father’s hand. Three-and-one-half months premature, he spent the first 100 days of his life in MedStar Georgetown University Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and Perinatal Center. Nick and his joyful parents, Diane and Lou, of Ellicott City, Md., left the NICU on Nick’s original due date, March 30, 1994.

    Reflecting back all those years ago, Diane can’t help becoming tearful. “The memories bring up all kinds of emotions,” she says. “It is still so vivid. He was so unbelievably small and fragile. We are incredibly grateful to the NICU.”

    Now a newly minted graduate of the Georgetown University class of 2016, Nick marvels at how Georgetown University—and the NICU—anchor so many important milestones for him. “We toured the university campus when I was a high school senior, 18 years to the day that I was discharged from the NICU,” Nick says. “We fit in a quick visit to the NICU and reunited with doctors and nurses. I returned several times as a Georgetown student to support families with babies even smaller than I was.” As a guest of honor at two NICU preemie reunions, Nick has described his journey as “coming full circle,” and has inspired many NICU families.

    We are incredibly grateful to the NICU.

    - Diane Cortina, Nick’s mother

    From his long career in the MedStar Georgetown NICU, Siva Subramanian, MD, chief of the Division of Neonatal Perinatal Medicine, knows well the great joy and great concern that mark each family’s journey. In addition to the cutting-edge treatments and research, an equally important part of the NICU’s offerings is the NICU Family Support Center.

    A place for families to unwind while visiting their newborns, the center will receive a transformation, thanks to generous donors of the NICU Family Support Center Renovation Fund. The updates will include a tranquil lactation room, a family lounge, sibling play area and a parent and infant sleep room.

    “This renovation is much needed and will support us in our mission to provide family-centered care and comfort to these precious babies and their families,” says Dr. Siva.

    Learn More

    To donate to the NICU Family Support Center Renovation Fund, visit or contact the Office of Philanthropy at 202-444-4639.