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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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  • February 09, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Pelvic Floor Disorder: A Common Problem

    It’s a fact that one in three women over the age of 45 suffers from a pelvic floor disorder (PFD). The most common pelvic floor disorders are urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse. The condition can significantly impact a woman’s quality of life. There are easy ways to treat the disorder, but women are oftentimes unwilling to discuss the symptoms they are experienceing because they are too embarrassed.

    The older a woman gets, the greater the chance of developing a PFD. In general, pelvic floor disorders are caused by a laxity in the pelvic floor ligaments and connective tissue in the lowest part of the pelvis and weakness of the pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor supports organs, including the bowel, bladder, uterus, vagina, and rectum. But when the muscles are weakened or the connective tissue tears, that's when problems can begin. Why does this happen? It’s a natural part of the aging process, hormonal changes after menopause plays a role as well pregnancy, childbirth and obesity.

    Identifying Symptoms

    Pelvic organ prolapse is the most common disorder, and it happens when the pelvic floor muscles and ligaments become too weak to hold organs in the correct position in the pelvis. As the condition progresses, women can feel bulging tissue protruding through the opening of the vagina. When this happens, women may have problems controlling their bladder and bowels. Also, some have pain in the lower back, pelvis or bladder.  All women may not experience the same symptoms, but it’s important to seek help if any pain or discomfort persists.

    While an OB/GYN may be aware of the symptoms, women should seek out a urogynecologist, a physician with special training and significant expertise in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, if symptoms persist.

    They used to just say it was a ‘female problem,’” said Jeanne McMahon, 58, who lived with bladder and uterine prolapse for more than 20 years before having surgery in the fall of 2015. With the help of nationally-recognized and highly skilled urogynecologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Dr. Cheryl Iglesia, Jeanne is now playing tennis and hiking again, and is grateful she has her life back.   

     Dr. Iglesia, and her patient Jeanne, discuss PFDs in this Washington Post article.

    Have any questions?

    We are here to help! Contact us for more information about pelvic floor disorders or to schedule an appointment. Call us at 202-877-3627.

  • February 09, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    The Farming Life of Melissa Fries, MD

      It’s 5:30 a.m. on a weekday morning, and Melissa Fries, MD, sits in a metal shed on her rural western Montgomery County farm, hand-milking Leaf, an Oberhasli milk goat. Moon, a LaMancha, waits her turn nearby. Once the milk has been collected, filtered and stored in the refrigerator, Dr. Fries will kiss her husband, Ronnie, goodbye and make her way to I-270 for the drive to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where a busy day awaits her as chair of the Ob/Gyn Department.

    There will be other farm chores to do when she gets back this evening—another round of milking, feeding a menagerie of agricultural animals, picking vegetables and taking care of whatever else can be done on the 25-acre spread, before bedtime at 9:30 p.m.

    For now, however, Dr. Fries savors the early morning serenity, a quiet broken only by the rhythmic ring of new milk squirting in the pail, her reassurances to Leaf and the occasional cluck, baa, and moo from the farm’s other “residents.”

    “This is a very peaceful time of day,” says Dr. Fries as she squeezes the last few drops from Leaf, who has nonchalantly been munching on grain. “The animal is giving you the blessing of her milk, while a new day is getting started around you. It couldn’t be better.”

    Her colleagues at the Hospital Center would certainly agree, as they often get to share in the farm’s bounty—homemade goats’ milk, cheeses and yogurt; eggs, courtesy of the farm’s free-range chickens; honey from a start-up beehive; and fresh vegetables from a garden that Dr. Fries laments, “went to weeds for the summer,” but vows will be back next spring.

    Dr. Fries joined the Hospital Center in 2006 after a 26-year career as an Air Force Ob/Gyn. She and her husband had little collective farm experience to draw on when they purchased the property in Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve in 2013.

    “I’d always loved growing things, and we did have a few chickens and sheep in Mississippi,” she says. “My husband grew up on Long Island near German communities, where growing and sharing crops was common. Working with animals was his dream, and it became mine too.”

    Fortunately, the couple had some time to get up to speed on their adopted lifestyle. They spent the first six months clearing portions of the property, and setting up fencing to make space for various animal enclosures, as well as a barn and other storage areas. The house was expanded, to include a shop and an industrial kitchen for processing and preparing everything from cheese to soap.

    Meanwhile, they sought advice from the County Agricultural Extension service, which provided guidance on everything from soil testing for locating gardens, to identifying sources of farm animals.

    “Once you find a person who sells a certain type of animal, they become a mentor to you,” Dr. Fries says. “We’ve also received a lot of help from area vets, who help with health assessments and illnesses. And, we’ve read books—a lot of books.”

    Since the first animals began moving in last spring, the Fries farm’s zoological census has expanded to two cows, 11 goats, 11 turkeys, three pigs, two dogs, an indeterminate number of bees and 35 chickens, though that number fluctuates.

    “The chickens are free-range, which means we occasionally lose one to a fox,” Dr. Fries says with a sigh.

    Otherwise, the animals have their separate areas, with shelters and troughs for food and water. They’re fed twice a day, with Ronnie typically handling the other daytime chores during the week. This summer, however, he’s juggled the farm duties with his studies to become an Emergency Medical Technician.

    When the weekend rolls around, there’s plenty of work to go around. On a recent summer Saturday, for example, Dr. Fries weeded the garden, made batches of goat milk cheese and tomato sauce, and milked the goats, while Ronnie mowed the property’s open areas and worked on restoring an old truck and a horse trailer.

    “Every day, we’re doing something different,” Dr. Fries says. “There’s not much downtime, and no vacation in the summer. We have to plan our trips for the winter months when the animals are pregnant, but not ready to deliver, and we can get some help with the feeding.”

    Dr. Fries says she and Ronnie have learned a great deal as part-time farmers, particularly the importance of fresh, non-processed food. “There’s no comparison between what you grow yourself or buy from a neighbor, and what’s available in the grocery store,” she says. “We really are what we eat, and so much of our health is affected by it.”

    Dr. Fries has also gained a gAreater respect for those whose livelihoods depend on growing food. “It takes 20 tomatoes to make a quart of sauce,” she says, “so you can imagine how much someone has to produce to make an operation economically viable. And that’s on top of the inherent challenge of growing the crop.”

    There are many other lessons yet to be learned, which is why Dr. Fries and her husband are “testing the waters” when it comes to breeding their animals and expanding their farm population. “If the turkeys do well, Ronnie has plans for more of them next year,” Dr. Fries says, admitting that most will be fated to end up on holiday dinner tables. She is also contemplating getting a third milk goat, and erecting framing so that she can start growing hops next year.

    Then, there’s coming up with new ways to use the approximately four quarts of goats’ milk Leaf and Moon produce each day.

    “We go through the milk pretty quick, but we can’t sell it because it’s not pasteurized,” Dr. Fries says, “We may be able to sell cheese if I can get good at it.”

    Asked if she doesn’t already feel her daily schedule is busy enough, Dr. Fries just smiles.

    “Everything we do here brings us joy,” she says. “Why not do more of it?”

  • February 05, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Three confirmed cases of the Zika virus have now been reported in D.C., all from people who have traveled outside of the United States, according to the D.C. Department of Health. One of the three cases came in 2015 and the other two were confirmed this year. All three cases involve people who took trips to Central and South America. One case involved a woman who was pregnant.

    While the virus has been fast-spreading in the Americas, it is important to remember that the virus poses no immediate threat to the health and well being for many of us in the United States. It’s also crucial to note that the Zika virus is not an airborne pathogen, which means it’s not contagious. Here are some things you need to know about the Zika virus.

    How is the virus transmitted?The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. This same mosquito spreads dengue and chikungunya viruses. There is no strong evidence of fluid-to-person transmission, and the virus cannot be passed by skin or respiratory contact or through droplets from a sneeze. But in the wake of news out of Dallas of a suspected case of transmission of the Zika virus through sexual contact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines for how pregnant women should protect themselves from getting infected, if their partner has traveled to an area with active transmission of the virus and has had symptoms. If that is the case, using condoms during sex is an easy way to protect oneself.

    If I am pregnant and have traveled to an area where Zika is prevalent, should I get tested?If you are pregnant and develop fever, rash, headaches and have joint pain within two weeks after traveling to an affected country, it’s important to call your health provider right away and discuss your exposure and your travel history. If you’ve had symptoms and traveled to an infected area in the Americas, the CDC will test the serum to determine if the virus is present.

    What are the symptoms?Only one in five people infected with Zika virus will have symptoms and become ill. The symptoms are mild and can last several days up to a week. Again, the most common are fever, rash and headaches. There’s no treatment for the virus. The disease has to run its course.

    How to protect yourself?If you are pregnant, the CDC recommends that all women postpone their travel abroad to Zika-infected regions. If you’re not pregnant, there’s no need to change your travel plans, but it is important to protect yourself in order to avoid mosquito bites. Mosquito repellents like Deet are the best protection against the Zika virus.

    Is their definitely a link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, the birth defect that causes babies’ heads to be smaller than expected?

    A lot remains unknown about the Zika virus. We have associations, but there are no definite confirmations. The huge spike in the numbers of children born with microcephaly in the Americas is alarming and is reason for concern. Evaluations and investigations are ongoing in this country and abroad. It’s important that women remain calm and stay informed.

    Stay Informed

    Bookmark to return for additional updates as they become available.

  • February 04, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center is one of only two hospitals in the nation selected to partner with the American College of Cardiology (ACC) on the Find Your Heart a Home™ pilot program. This project will help patients when they are trying to choose the right hospital for their heart care.

    Find Your Heart a Home is a first-of-its-kind online tool that allows patients and caregivers to search and compare hospitals based on the cardiac services they provide and the quality of care they deliver.  The database is populated with information from the National Cardiovascular Data Registry.  This registry tracks the results of certain heart care procedure such as cardiac catheterizations, angioplasty and implantable cardiac defibrillators.  The tool is part of ACC’s CardioSmart initiative, a website full of educational information and tools to help guide patients on their heart health journey.

    "Patients need and deserve access to accurate information that helps them make informed decisions," said Allen J. Taylor, MD, chief of Cardiology at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute.  “In this era of healthcare transparency, patients and their families want access to credible information about quality of care when they are choosing hospitals.  Consumers use online search tools to make decisions about everything from restaurants to hotels, but until recently, it has been difficult to find useful and understandable information online about hospitals. As health care becomes more and more transparent, this is changing, and MedStar is proud to be leading the way."

    "MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute is a pioneer in this effort to give patients the tools they need to become an active participant when mapping out their cardiac care plan,” said ACC President Kim Allan Williams, MD, FACC. “They are showing a true commitment to transparency and quality and serving as an example to hospitals across the country.”

    The registry rates MedStar Washington Hospital Center, the founding hospital of MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute, based on 1,810 cardiac cath and angioplasty procedures, and 520 implanted cardiac defibrillators.  For each aspect of care evaluated, the Hospital Center's performance earned the maximum four stars.

    MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s heart data can be found here, or visit

  • February 03, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    It takes a village – in this case a village of nearly 700 associates and physicians who spent the weekend at MedStar Washington Hospital Center during the recent Blizzard of 2016 to make sure our patients received the care they needed. Here is a look at the blizzard by the numbers and through the amazing stories of associate teamwork – and the persistence of one little baby.
  • February 01, 2016

    By MedStar Health

    Hypothyroidism is a commonly misdiagnosed condition because the symptoms are non-specific and easily mistaken for other health problems.