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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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  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    Oral Surgery
    Start Date: 1963


    My earliest memories of the Hospital Center go back to 1956, before it was even built. I was in high school at the time and remember my father - an oral surgeon with the old Episcopal Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital - sitting at the kitchen table, poring over blueprints and plans with others, as they worked to design the new Department of Oral Surgery.

    When it opened, it was much bigger and more modern than anything any of them had ever seen. Of course, since then, it's been remodeled at least two to three times to accommodate newer equipment.

    My father was the first oral surgery resident at Episcopal, and I followed in his footsteps, becoming an oral surgery resident at the Hospital Center in 1963. That was quite a year. In August, Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington, and a crowd of 250,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to hear him. The hospital didn't really know what to expect, but decided to prepare for any emergency. All leave for residents was cancelled - we were all ordered to be on duty in case we were needed. Fortunately, we weren't.

    As a resident, I worked under my father's tutelage; I then joined his practice and we worked side-by-side for the next 25 years.

    It's been an amazing experience to witness the growth of the Oral Surgery Department and be part of the many changes and advances that have made the department what it is today. I know my father would be extremely proud of this history, and I'm proud to be a member of the department and the legacy he helped create.

  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    Division Director Emeritus, Cardiology
    Start Date: 1977


    I was chief of cardiology at Louisiana State University in Shreveport when I got the call from MedStar Washington Hospital Center about becoming the director of echocardiology. It was a new and emerging field at the time, and I really didn't know much about it. In fact, I remember reading a textbook about the procedure on my way to take the job! Fortunately for me, Dr. Steve Goldstein came shortly after I did, and I quickly turned echo over to him. He has become a true expert, and is now director of the noninvasive lab.

    Thanks to Dr. (James) Bacos, the hospital was already well on its way to becoming a top-notch cardiovascular center when I joined the staff in 1977. Then as now, it was ahead of the curve in embracing new procedures and technology. In fact, the Hospital Center was a true pioneer in the use of pacemakers, which it started implanting not too long after their debut and the hospital's opening. Initially, it was a surgical procedure, but advances in technology and techniques soon made it possible through cardiac catheterization. By the time I became section chair in 1981, pacemakers were being implanted more and more by cardiologists, and I had a stream of surgeons complaining in my office.

    Over the years, I'm proud of many things that have taken place. Our section has grown from a staff of about six to eight cardiologists to our current high of more than 50. We now perform approximately 11,000 echocardiograms each year, and have the area's leading arrhythmia program. For all practical purposes, angioplasty got its start here in 1981, when we performed between 50 and 70 a year. Now, of course, we do about 5,000 angioplasty procedures annually, and have one of the busiest and most respected cardiac catheterization labs in the world. And through our cardiology fellowship program, doctors carry the banner of the Hospital Center far and wide.

    None of these achievements would have been possible without the physicians, nurses and other staff who have maintained the highest standards of quality as well as humanity in caring for patients. In fact, the most difficult challenge we face these days is how to balance the need to be an efficient, high-volume program, with the needs of our patients for compassion and comfort.

    I passed on the baton of chair and all its attendant administrative duties this past spring. But for as long as I am able, I'm going to remain at the Hospital Center, doing the things I like the best: teaching, mentoring fellows, conducting research and patient care.

  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    Obstetrics and Gynecology
    Began his Residency at Garfield Memorial Hospital; completed it at the new Washington Hospital Center in 1959


    When the Hospital Center first opened, it was just before the social upheaval of the 1960s, and attitudes were very different, especially for women who were unmarried and became pregnant. At the time, I was a resident at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, and we had a contract to provide care to the young women at the Florence Crittendon Home for Unwed Mothers in Georgetown.

    One night during my senior year of residency, I was on duty at the Crittendon Home with a patient in labor whom I believed needed a Cesarean section. Getting transportation at the time was difficult as there were few ambulances available. I knew the route to the Hospital Center well, and I decided I had no choice but to drive the patient there in my own car.

    When we got to the Hospital Center, I took her right to the OR and she delivered a healthy baby by C-section, one of the first ever performed at the new hospital.

    I was highly admonished by the attending physician, but I felt I had made the right choice for that young woman and her baby. I'm very proud of my residency at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. In my day, it was a smaller program. It's become so much bigger over the years, and I'm elated about that.

    *Dr. Hewlett died on May 2, 2007, after providing us with this memory.

  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    Start Date: 1989


    MedStar Washington Hospital Center has played an integral role in the milestones that have shaped my life and career. When I was a young boy, my first memories of the Hospital Center were waiting eagerly to pick up my mom who worked as a registered nurse.

    I had several encounters with the Emergency Department, including one for a broken arm. At eleven, I was taken to the hospital again because of swollen lymph nodes. There was some concern that I might have had Hodgkin's disease and luckily, it turned out I did not. While being tested, I met a hematologist, Lawrence Pierce, MD, who made a wonderful impression on me as one of the kindest and gentlest doctors I had ever met. He was a great role model for me because I had wanted to become a physician from early childhood.

    Some 16 years later, during my Hospital Center residency, I was privileged to run into Dr. Pierce and work with him. It was great to see him and see how he was still such a caring physician.

    My connection to the Hospital Center continued, when in 1995 I was on call as a cardiology fellow, and I met a nurse who would eventually become my wife. Although she had to move back to California that very week, we maintained a long-distance relationship for three years and married in 1998. After she moved to the Washington area, David Downing, MD, was her OB/GYN and he delivered both our baby girls - at the Hospital Center, of course!

    Looking back, the Hospital Center has been an amazing part of my life. It's not only where my family receives care, it's primarily where I provide care as a cardiologist. I am happy and proud to be a part of the history of such a wonderful organization.

  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    1959 -1965


    When I first started my surgical residency at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in 1959, the campus was pretty bare. We were really isolated, in an almost rural setting, with nothing around us except Catholic University, the Old Soldiers Home, the reservoir and some orchards. Of course, Washington itself was still a sleepy, little Southern town at the time - there were no traffic jams! I remember driving from the Hospital Center to Arlington in 20 minutes.

    It was a college-like atmosphere, with unmarried house staff actually living at the hospital. Most of us bunked two-to-four to a room, like a dorm. If you were really senior and lucky, you might get a room to yourself.

    As residents, we were expected to work as many hours as necessary and be grateful for the experience! And what an experience it was! We were surrounded by prominent, older physicians who came from the three founding hospitals - and that intellectual environment definitely influenced our education. Plus we were introduced to a virtual United Nations of residents and fellows. During the late 1950s, new hospitals were springing up all over the country, and U.S. medical schools couldn't turn out graduates fast enough. To fill all the vacancies, the newer hospitals looked overseas, recruiting doctors and nurses from Europe, the Middle East, India. I had never been exposed to so many different people from so many different cultures. We even had two World War II veterans - one from Germany and one from Great Britain - who now operated side-by-side in America.

    By the time I left in 1965, the Hospital Center was already expanding with new buildings, as was the community around it. Probably none of that would have happened if MedStar Washington Hospital Center hadn't paved the way.

  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    General Surgeon


    One of the greatest advances I've witnessed in my time at the Hospital Center is the improvement in diagnostic methods.

    Better methods of imaging have helped house staff and attending physicians make critical diagnoses in consults, avoiding and reducing unnecessary complications and surgery.

    We've moved from an era of hands-on diagnosis to current validation by imaging using advanced medical technologies such as CAT scans, MRI and other methods.

    In the 1970s, for example, the rate of unnecessary appendectomies performed was as high as 25 percent on average. Today, it's less than 5 percent mostly because of advances in diagnostic technologies.

    When it comes to breast cancer, a few decades ago the majority of surgeons believed there was no need at all for ancillary services. But now that's all changed for the better through the availability of numerous support groups and services that help patients have a much smoother post-operative recovery period than ever before.

    As a minority surgeon, it took me 10 years to become a senior attending surgeon. Currently, it takes on average less than three years to become a senior attending depending on your skills and experience whether you are a minority or not.

    In the operating room, there's much less tolerance for the volatile surgeon. There is no longer room for a surgeon to act in a demeaning or degrading way toward other health professionals.

    Witnessing so many improvements and advances in both medicine and societal attitudes has been a rewarding and gratifying experience for me during my career at the Hospital Center. I'm so pleased to see that the present and future for all of our patients, physicians and staff is better and brighter than ever.