Caring for Dry, Chapped Skin During Austin’s Winter Months

December 8, 2014  | By Venessa Peña-Robichaux, MD

‘Tis the season for dry, chapped, itchy skin here in Austin! Although we all love the holiday season, it is often a time when we are battling the effects of the cold weather on our skin.

Most people will experience dry skin over the winter for various reasons. The cool outdoor winds can cause wind burns that lead to chapped cheeks, lips, hands, and dry eyes. The heaters we have running in our homes and vehicles generate a dry heat that further dries out skin. It feels so good to many of us to get in a scalding hot shower when we are trying to battle the cold, but this dries out our skin even further. Is there no escape from our winter dry skin destiny? Believe it or not there are many things you can do during this winter season to try to prevent and treat dry, chapped skin.

 

Tips for Dry Skin

The most important thing you can do for your skin this winter is a find a moisturizer  you like and moisturize as much as possible! This is one of the main ways you are going to replenish the moisture that is stripped from your skin via the harsh winter climate. In general, thicker creams (for example Eucerin and Aveeno products) and ointments (for example Vaseline, Aquaphor, Cocoa/Shea butter, or local Climb On Creme) are better at hydrating the skin compared to lotions.

There are frequent bathing mistakes that people often make during the winter as well. The first is bathing with water that is too hot; this can further dry out skin so try bathing with warm water instead. Secondly, many people bathe with soaps that strip the skin of its natural oils. I recommend using moisturizing bars/washes like Dove, Oil of Olay, or Caress, which clean without over drying.

There is no better way to combat the dry air in your heated homes than by using a humidifier. The best places to have a humidifier are in the living room and the bedroom, since these are the rooms most people spend the majority of their time.

Wintertime is the only time when I will say this – make it more humid!

 

Tips for Dry Lips

Chapped lips can be extremely bothersome. They can start peeling, hurting, and itching all at the same time. Lips are extremely vulnerable to the cold weather because they are always exposed to the elements. To prevent chapped lips the best thing you can do is use a moisturizing lip balm daily. I like using plain Vaseline, Aquaphor, or Aveeno Healing Ointment.

If your lips are starting to feel dry the worst thing you can do is start licking. At all costs – DON’T LICK! Although saliva on your dry lips feels good initially, saliva is actually an irritant and can cause what’s called lip lickers dermatitis. Once lips are so chapped that they are cracking and bleeding they sometimes need extra care. I often recommend CortiBalm, a lip balm that has hydrocortisone in it which helps with inflammation, for red painful lips.

 

Tips for Dry Hands

Hands can get dry, red, itchy, and cracked during the winter season. This happens because we use our hands all time when we are outdoors – opening doors, putting groceries in the car, raking the leaves, mowing the lawn, walking the dog, etc. The longer that hands are exposed to the cold air, the drier and chapped they get, so rule #1 is try to wear gloves when it’s chilly.

Washing our hands is part of our daily routine. It’s important to do to prevent the spread of germs, but during the winter it’s especially grueling on the skin. Soap and hand sanitizers remove the naturally-produced oils in your skin, so washing hands during this time of the year makes your hands even drier, which often leads to cracking and pain.

Using thick moisturizers on your hands as often as possible is crucial during the winter. I usually tell my patients to keep small tubes of Vaseline in their pockets or purses and use them every time their hands start to feel dry, especially after washing their hands. Other hand creams I like include Neutrogena Norwegian Hand Cream, Eucerin Intensive Repair and Aveeno Healing Ointment.

Another trick I often recommend to help dry hands is to apply a thick moisturizer like Vaseline before bed and then cover hands with white cotton gloves while sleeping; when you wake up in the morning I promise your hands will be nice and soft! If you are unfortunate enough to have your hands start cracking one thing that can help with healing and pain is applying liquid bandage over the affected areas (I like the brand New-Skin).

When these self-care tips aren’t enough, come in and see me and I can offer a variety of prescription treatments for severely dry and irritated skin. I hope these dry skin tips help you and yours brave our winter weather this year in Austin!

Venessa Peña-Robichaux, MD
Venessa Peña-Robichaux, MD is a dermatologist specializing in the treatment of pediatric and adult skin conditions. A Texas native and fluent in Spanish, Dr. Peña-Robichaux received her medical degree from Harvard Medical School and is a graduate of Rice University with a degree in Biology, cum laude. Dr. Peña-Robichaux trained in pediatric medicine during her preliminary year at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She then completed her dermatology residency at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan, and is Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology.