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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:
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    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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  • May 05, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    While most of us associate chronic hip pain with age and arthritis, a surprising number of younger people are also affected.
  • May 04, 2016

    By Dr. Loral Patchen, PhD, MSN, MA, CNM Certified Nurse Midwife, Vice Chair, Innovation and Community Programs, and Section Director for Midwifery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center


    Delivering a baby is one of life's most memorable moments. But childbirth can also be painful. Many women struggle to balance their desire for a natural experience—free of narcotics and epidurals—with another desire: to be comfortable.

    We now offer a way to achieve that balance. Under our watchful eye, women can choose to use nitrous oxide (or laughing gas) during labor. The blend is a lower concentration from the form used during dental care, and is designed so women maintain consciousness. Breathing the gas just before and during a contraction helps to "take the edge off" the pain, giving women more control and providing a safe, non-invasive alternative for those desiring a low-intervention birth experience.

    The Midwives of MedStar Washington Hospital Center are dedicated to the delivery of exceptional care to women and their families across the Washington, D.C., region. They are committed to achieving optimal health outcomes by offering safe, evidence-based, family-centered and individually responsive care.

    Interested in learning more about the Midwifery services? Join us for our monthly "Meet and Greet" the second Thursday of every month at 6 p.m.:

    MedStar Washington Hospital Center
    106 Irving Street, NW
    Physicians Office Building
    North Tower 4400
    Washington, D.C., 20010

    To schedule an appointment with the midwives, call


    As heard on WTOP Radio:

    Loral Patchen, MA, MSN, CNM

    Loral Patchen, MA, MSN, CNM Director, Midwifery


  • May 03, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Crohn's Disease

    There are 700,000 Americans suffering from Crohn’s disease—and no matter what they do, nearly 70% of them will eventually require surgery.1

    For some, drug therapy and a healthy diet improve their quality of life, but the symptoms can be crippling, and may become unresponsive to medications.

    Fortunately, we have advanced procedures that can reduce the negative impacts. Minimally invasive surgical methods use small incisions to successfully manage the difficulties of this lifelong illness. These techniques result in decreased bleeding, reduced hospital stays and shortened recovery time for patients.

    Minimally invasive surgeries performed by our board-certified colon and rectal surgeons include:

    Laparoscopic Colectomy: During this procedure, your surgeon will make small incisions and insert small ports through which a light, camera and instruments on long shafts can be introduced. With these instruments, the colon segment is resected. One incision is slightly larger, to permit extraction of the colon from the abdomen. Then the open ends of the colon are put together, called an anastomosis. The use of smaller incisions reduces post-operative pain and recovery time. This is a change from the traditional version of this surgery, which uses one large incision.

    ​Robotic-Assisted Surgery: This procedure is used for patients that need to have surgery to remove part of the colon. The robotic-assisted colorectal surgery technique is minimally invasive and allows the surgeon to perform with enhanced dexterity, precision, vision, and control. This surgery is performed through making tiny incisions in the skin which reduces post-operative pain, recovery time, and shorter hospital stay. This is also a change from the traditional version of this surgery, which uses one large incision.

    1 (Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America)

    To schedule a consultation, call


    As heard on WTOP Radio:

    Thomas Stahl, MD

    Thomas Stahl, MD
    Colorectal Surgeon


  • May 02, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Bariatric Surgery

    Bariatric surgery isn’t just for weight-loss. For overweight people with diabetes, it could be a cure- and a life-saver.

    Studies now show that following bariatric surgery, blood sugar levels may lower or normalize, reducing the need for medication. In multiple studies of diabetic patients, 89 percent of patients saw their diabetes significantly improve or even completely disappear, leading to substantially lower hospitalization rates for related illnesses. These benefits have been shown to be long lasting (greater than 5 years).

    Of all the benefits of weight loss, curing diabetes is truly a life-changing reason to see if you qualify.

    MedStar Washington Hospital Center offers free information sessions to provide details on the surgery options and help determine what’s right for you.

    As a patient, you will have access to the full range of services provided by one of the region’s most experienced teams:

    • Meetings with a registered dietitian
    • Monthly support groups
    • Consultations with an exercise physiologist, gastroenterologist and psychologist

    To register for a free information session, please call 202-877-3627.

    References i. Yu J, Zhou X, Li L, Li S, Tan J, Li Y, Sun X. The long-term effects of bariatric surgery for type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized and non-randomized evidence. Obes Surg. 2015 Jan;25(1):143-58. doi: 10.1007/s11695-014-1460-2. ii. Morgan DJ, Ho KM, Armstrong J, Litton E. Long-term Clinical Outcomes and Health Care Utilization After Bariatric Surgery: A Population-Based Study. Ann Surg, 2014 (Oct 30).

    Your First Step in the Bariatric Surgery Process is to Complete an Online Seminar at MedStar Washington Hospital Center

    As heard on WTOP Radio:

    Timothy Koch, MD

    Timothy Koch, MD Bariatric Physician


  • May 01, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Robot-Assisted Surgery

    Just a few years ago, surgical treatment for colorectal cancers, inflammatory bowel disease and diverticulitis could prove to be very disruptive for the patient, involving a large incision, prolonged hospital stay, and a slow recovery.

    Today, we use robot assisted surgical techniques to improve patient outcomes. The robot allows us to approach even complex procedures in a fashion that offers more patients the benefits of minimally invasive surgery: smaller incisions, less discomfort and a faster recovery.

    To learn more about robotic-assisted surgery at MedStar Washington, call


    As heard on WTOP Radio:

    James FitzGerald, MD

    James FitzGerald, MD
    Colorectal Surgeon


  • April 30, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    3-D Imaging Guides Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

    Oral and maxillofacial surgery is an internationally recognized specialty that treats many diseases, injuries and defects of the face, jaw, mouth and teeth. Whatever the cause, any surgery of the face requires extra care and precision.

    At MedStar Washington Hospital Center, specialists use innovative 3-D imaging technology to create a virtual model of the patient’s jaw and facial structure. Using this model, surgeons can plan the procedure and even demonstrate the process to the patient. The imaging guides results before and during surgery.

    With this technology, operations are shorter, recovery is faster, and full oral function is restored while preserving the patient’s most precious feature—their face.

    To schedule a consultation with an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, call


    As heard on WTOP Radio:

    Ravi Agarwal, DDS

    Ravi Agarwal, DDS
    Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

    To schedule a consultation, call 202-877-3627.