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UMMC expert offers tips for managing dry skin during winter’s harshest months

Published on Friday, January 12, 2018

By: Alana Bowman

Despite recent forecasts, Mississippi winters tend to be mild. That doesn’t mean they aren’t tough on skin.


One of the most common complaints that Dr. Jasmine Hollinger, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, sees during the winter months is dry skin.

“The humidity we are blessed with – or cursed with, depending on how you look at it – is ideal for people with dry skin,” Hollinger said.

But when cold, high pressure weather moves in, humidity drops. The weather that brings relief in summer months can bring discomfort in the winter.

Weather that yo-yos back and forth between warm and cold, humid and dry, can be a challenge for a person’s skin, Hollinger said.

“Our skin doesn’t really know whether to produce moisture or retain it,” she said. “For people with eczema, winter is worse because they already have trouble retaining moisture. When you add being in the heat at home and no moisture in the air, it really aggravates their skin and perpetuates the cycle.”

Hollinger offers a few simple tips to help combat dryness during the colder months:

1) Put moisture back in the air.
Hollinger recommends using a humidifier “if you are feeling a little dry.” She said those who don’t have a humidifier can fill a tub or sink with water and put a towel on the edge to serve as a wick to soak up the water.

2) Switch to a more gentle cleanser.
“We usually recommend gentle cleansers that do not strip natural oils from the skin,” Hollinger said.

She said common deodorant soaps clean too well, removing the natural moisture skin makes. Soaps with fragrances can irritate the skin and make dryness worse.

“Most people want something that foams because that is what they were brought up with,” she said. “But just because it doesn't ‘suds up’ doesn't mean you're not getting clean.”

3) Resist the urge for a long soak in a hot shower or bath.
Hot water can dry out the skin even further. Hollinger suggests using warm water and an oil-based body wash and gently patting the skin instead of drying off completely. Always follow up with a moisturizer.

4) Switch to a heavier moisturizer in cold weather.
“This time of year, lotions don't quite cut it,” Hollinger said. “They are not heavy enough.”

She suggests using a heavy cream or an ointment as a protective barrier to seal the skin and prevent drying. Look for a product for sensitive skin without harsh dyes, alcohol and fragrances.

5) Wash your hands, then moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.
Hollinger said washing your hands is important during cold and flu season. It’s also important to replenish the lost moisture after every wash.

“We try to encourage people to avoid excessive hand-washing and alcohol-based hand sanitizers because those dry you out,” Hollinger said. “It's just going to irritate you more and keep that cycle going.”

6) Be gentle with laundry, too.
“The goal of detergent is to strip our clothes of dirt, and the goal of the fabric softener is to add moisture back, kind of like a shampoo and a conditioner,” Hollinger said. “We wear clothes every day and we get some protection from dry skin, especially in the winter and in windy weather.

“Be sure to wear protective clothing such as scarves, gloves and long sleeves. However, clothing that is rough can make dry skin worse, especially fabrics like wool.”

Reducing the amount of laundry detergent used and switching to a mild, fragrance-free detergent can help prevent clothing from getting too dry since laundry detergents remove moisture from clothing.

Skin that has progressed beyond a little dryness can develop a condition called eczema craquelé, Hollinger said.

“It is a type of eczema that happens when your dry skin does get out of control,” she said. “We see it more with the elderly because, as we age, we lose some of our oil glands. That makes it easier for your skin to dry out.”

She said the condition is commonly seen on lower extremities, like the shins.

“That area is furthest from our heart, and we're not getting all the nutrients to the lower extremities like we do to our upper body.”

If dry skin has progressed to the point of itching, cracking and bleeding, it may be time to see a dermatologist.

“At that point, we'll prescribe a topical steroid to calm down the itching,” Hollinger said. “Sometimes if there are deep cracks, we may prescribe an antibiotic ointment to prevent bacteria from entering the body.

“We have micro pores and openings in our skin. Most of the time they are so small that bacteria and germs can't get in. If you let your skin get really, really dry, you are going to allow things to come in that shouldn't.

“You want to protect your skin. It’s not just cosmetic.”

To schedule an appointment with a UMMC dermatologist about dry skin or any other skin care issues, click here.

NOTE: This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of CONSULT, UMMC's monthly electronic newsletter. To learn more about Medical Center news past, present and future, and to have more stories like this delivered directly to your inbox, subscribe to CONSULT.