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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

    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.

  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health


    Job Opportunities Benefits

    Why Work at MedStar Washington Hospital Center?

    Professional Development Simulation Lab Team Training

    Overview of MedStar Washington Hospital Center

    Living and Working in Washington D.C.,

    Personally Making a Difference

    Associate Director, Cardiology Start Date: 1978


    On February 12, 1981, I arrived at the Hospital Center at 5 a.m. in the dark hours of the morning, because we were scheduled to do the hospital's first angioplasty. I wasn't alone. Nelson Puig, the chief cardiovascular technologist, was there, too. We were anxious, because this technique was so new. The patient wasn't even scheduled until 7:30, but I wanted to check and re-check the equipment myself just to be sure. We had been ready for an angioplasty case for six months, but back then, only a few patients were candidates for this procedure. We didn't have today's advanced tools or imaging technology; we had to be cautious.

    We were all thrilled that the first patient did very well, but it took another three months to find a second patient who fit the criteria. That year, we performed a total of six angioplasties, and we thought that was great! This past year, there were more than 19,000 cardiac catheterization​s done at the Hospital Center. It's been an amazing ride from those first few cases to where we are today. I'm grateful to have been a part of it, and also grateful to Dr. Jim Bacos (former chief of cardiology) whose vision and leadership helped to establish the hospital as a world-class heart center.

  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    Section Director, Surgical Critical Care Services
    Start Date: 1980


    I vividly remember my first day at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. I was starting as an attending internist along with another new doctor on the service: Joy Drass, now CEO of MedStar Georgetown University Hospital! We were joined by Fred Finelli—then a resident, now president of the Hospital Center's medical staff—and surgeons Bikram Paul and Mario Golocovsky, who were critical care and trauma attendings at the time. I still have the original schedule from that first week.

    It was an exciting time to be at the Hospital Center. Technological and therapeutic advances were allowing us to keep ill patients alive longer than ever before. To give them the best chance of survival, we found a need for physicians who were, in effect, generalists in all organs but with a special focus on the complexities of acute illness and injury. And thus was born the field of critical care medicine-and outgrowth of Internal Medicine, Surgery, Anesthesiology and Pediatrics.

    The Hospital Center was one of the first to establish its own Surgical Critical Care program, and today is one of the best in the nation. It has developed and evolved extensively over the years, and now includes an experienced critical care team representing many different disciplines, including nine intensivists. From two Surgical Intensive Care Units and 27 beds in 1980, we have grown to 59 beds spread out over five Critical and Intermediate Care Units.

    In parallel, the systems of medical and neonatal critical care have significantly evolved. Today, in addition to training the hospital's own surgical and pulmonary critical care residents, we also have students, residents and fellows from the National Institutes of Health, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Bethesda Naval Medical Center, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

    While most surgical patients have better than a 95 percent survival rate, one difficult part of our job is knowing when to say "enough" for the few who are beyond help. We need the wisdom to recognize when patients won't get better, and to know when to step away from technology. Then our attention turns solely toward helping patients, families and even other providers through the final days of life, providing comfort to all.

    Every day, the Critical Care team is challenged to use our skills, technology and available resources expertly, safely and compassionately.

  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    Before MedStar Washington Hospital Center even opened it doors in 1958, doctors were instrumental in planning and shaping the new organization.
  • January 08, 2015

    By MedStar Health

    Former Chief of Neurosurgery
    1958 - 1972


    JFK's secretary, Mrs. Lincoln; Robert F. Kennedy; Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Edgar J. Hoover are but a few of the famous names that sought care at the hands of Hugo V. Rizzoli, one of the most prominent neurosurgeons in Washington, during his long career. Now 91, Dr. Rizzoli, MedStar Washington Hospital Center's first chief of neurosurgery, still receives occasional calls for physician consults as well as care from "a few old patients who are crazy enough to continue to want to see me!" he says.

    He vividly remembers his first day at the new MedStar Washington Hospital Center in 1958.

    I was chief of neurosurgery at Emergency Hospital (after having been chief at Walter Reed) and had a patient with a serious brain aneurysm. I had operated on him a few days earlier, but he was by no means out of the woods. I told Emergency's administrator - Dr. Warwick Brown, a retired vice admiral, who then became MedStar Washington Hospital Center's first administrator - that they MUST keep the OR open for me, even as other departments were shutting down for the move to the new hospital. After a couple of days of this, Dr. Brown finally said, "Hugo, we've got to go. I can't keep the hospital open any longer." And I said, "My patient can't be jostled - how are we going to move him?"

    Well, Dr. Brown made arrangements with the Police Department, who escorted us on motorcycles all the way from the old Emergency Hospital on New York Avenue to MedStar Washington Hospital Center. They surrounded the ambulance, with some going ahead to block off streets so we'd never have to stop or change speed. Others followed to re-open the streets after we passed. It worked, and I admitted my first patient to MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

    The new hospital was an amazing place, both in terms of its physical structure and approach. It was a community hospital but ahead of its time. Open heart surgery was just on the horizon, and right from the get-go, they recognized that opportunity and along with it, the need to have both a full-time chief of medicine, Brigadier General Thomas W. Mattingly, and a chief of surgery, Dr. Nicholas P.D. Smyth. Outside of a university hospital, full-time chairmen were unheard of!

    Of course, the Hospital Center then went on to become one of the foremost hospitals in the world for cardiovascular care, along with many other "firsts." It was and still is a real innovator.


    In 1972, I was invited to become the first full-time Chief of the Department of Neurosurgery at George Washington University Medical School. When I talked to my wife about it, she said, "Take it. I'm tired of feeding you dinner at 11 p.m.!"

    But I maintained my involvement with MedStar Washington Hospital Center. In the late 1960s, I had established a joint neurosurgery residency program with the Hospital Center and GW. When I became head of the department at GW, I held all my Saturday morning resident conferences at the Hospital Center to make sure everyone realized how important it was to the program.