Dry skin is itchy skin. There are many conditions that can cause dry, itchy skin. The most common player that produces dry skin is the cold, dry air of winter. Also, hot showers without moisturizing afterward, and harsh and drying detergent soaps can make matters much worse.
Also, as we age, the skin does not produce as many natural moisturizing oils. So age brings on dry skin, too.
For some people, dry skin is a lifelong problem. For other people, dry skin only appears in the winter. I will discuss a good strategy to beat dry, itchy, winter skin below.
Clean your skin gently.
Avoid harsh detergent soaps. Use soaps with added moisturizers. Dove and Vanicream cleansing bars are excellent choices.
Moisturize and hydrate your skin regularly.
The most important time to apply a moisturizer is immediately after taking a bath or shower. Gently pat the skin dry with a cotton towel and immediately apply moisturizer. The lotion will effectively seal in all the water your skin has absorbed during the shower or bath. It also adds an extra layer of both water and emollient to the skin.
Cerave Cream and Vanicream are excellent moisturizers. Some studies have shown that bathing several times a day with the immediate application of a thick moisturizer can turn dry skin around in short order.
I don’t focus on telling my patients to avoid hot or long showers. Showers can also be taken daily. I stress “bathing smart.” That means don’t use abrasive products like a loofa, which can irritate the skin and trap and spread bacteria.
Use a fresh cotton washcloth instead, every time you bathe. The most important point is to seal in the moisturizer with a thick emollient cream immediately after bathing.
Use a humidifier.
Every little bit helps. Keeping the air around you humidified will keep your skin healthy, happy and hydrated.
Use skin-friendly clothing.
Cotton can help the skin breathe and is gentle on the skin. Wool can irritate and cause the skin to itch. Use detergents specially formulated to be gentle on the skin like Cheer Free.
If your dry skin is severe or if you have other skin conditions like psoriasis or atopic dermatitis, your dermatologist may want to modify or add prescription medications to these recommendations. By applying the above principles of gentle skin cleansing, frequent skin hydration, and daily emollient application, everyone can beat dry, itchy winter skin.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the U.S. by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.