Dry winter weather and dry skin go hand in hand. Depending on where you live, if you suffer from psoriasis, eczema or ordinary dry skin, you can feel the uncomfortable effects of winter weather as early as September. While there are a few factors that are the culprits, the common-denominator is dryness. Low air humidity, a diet lacking proper hydration and insufficient moisture barriers are the primary causes of red, cracked, itchy skin. And, if you have eczema and/or psoriasis, this recipe yields uncomfortable flare-ups.

Winter Fuels Scaly Skin

Relative humidity plays a big role in this. Home builders and engineers aim to keep the relative humidity in an indoor environment between 40-50 percent to protect from damaging condensation, mold and other structural problems caused by too much moisture. In the wintertime, however, the right balance is hard to manage. Heaters further dry out the air and reduce the amount of water vapor.

If relative humidity is lower than 30 percent, you are at risk of serious health problems. For example, a study from the National Academy of Sciences reported that insufficient humidity can increase the virility and spread of viruses such as the flu. And of course, excessively dry air will wreak havoc on your skin. If your home has low humidity, use a humidifier at night why you’re sleeping. However, be sure to clean your humidifier regularly as they are known to breed mold and bacteria.

Don’t Let Winter Win

To best manage your skincare in the winter, start with a checklist. Follow the five steps to achieve healthy, calm skin even during the coldest winter months:

  1. Manage indoor humidity
  2. Stay hydrated
  3. Use a good moisturizing cream
  4. Be mindful of environmental factors that indirectly make dry skin worse
  5. Talk to your pharmacist and/or doctor if problems persist

Moisturizing Creams: What to Look For

Your skin is your largest organ. It feeds on both hydration and moisture. In other words, you need to keep your fluid intake in balance and protect the surface of your skin with a moisture barrier like heavy, nutritious cream. The number of skin cream options can be dizzying. Here are some tips to find the best skin cream for you:

  • When shopping for a moisture barrier, think about feeding your skin. You want a cream that is heavy so it can nourish the skin with moisture.
  • Test the creams you’re researching to make sure they absorb properly. You do not want a cream made with mineral oil, petrolatum or waxes, which only coat the skin rather than truly moisturize.
  • You also want a cream that lasts so that you minimize applications and lapses in coverage.
  • Sun protection is always important as well. Do not apply sunscreen to an actively flaring psoriasis patch as it can be extremely irritating. But make sure to always wear sun protection on the rest of your skin.
  • Avoid harsh ingredients that are common irritants such as neomycin sulfate and formaldehyde; our recent blog post Active Ingredients that Activate Eczema and Psoriasis details a comprehensive list of ingredients to steer clear of.

Lesser-Known Dry Skin Irritants

Dry skin is finicky. It does not like hot showers or heavy, scratchy clothing and bedding. If you have psoriasis, your skin is impacted by your immune system. Getting sick with a common virus may worsen your symptoms. Clearly, many winter elements and occurrences exacerbate dry, itchy and painful cracked skin. From wearing warm wool sweaters to catching the office cold, the causes and aggravators of dry skin appear to be lurking around every corner in the winter.

The season and weather is only part of the equation. Despite the calendar, you may be fighting against factors that are always present, but compound when the winter hits. For example, your age. According to WebMD, “About 85% of older people develop winter itch because overheated indoor air is dry. The loss of oil glands as we age may also worsen dry skin.”

Be mindful of side effects from medications you may be taking. Several prescription and over-the-counter drugs worsen skin conditions. Ask your pharmacist for advice if you suspect your medications are complicating your winter dry skin issues.

As if there aren’t enough reasons to quit smoking, it too is a contributor to dry skin. If you’re taking smoke breaks outside on a blustery winter day, your skin is taking a double punch. The same goes for alcohol consumption. Alcohol can dehydrate you, robbing your skin of the hydration it desperately needs to stay healthy.

Sleep deprivation is another offender when you’re fighting dry skin. Although lack of sleep isn’t weather dependent, many people experience sleeplessness during the holiday season. They also drink more during that time. Women’s Health recently reported, “Dry skin is one of the most frustrating parts of the fall and winter seasons. But surprise surprise: Researcher found that neither diet nor exercise, but only poor sleep, was associated with transepidermal water loss—a decrease in skin hydration. Yes, turns out beauty sleep is legit.