Keeping your skin moisturized in cold, dry weather

Dry skin is a common companion during end-of-year festivities, but why is our skin more prone to losing hydration during this time? Dr. Vicky Zhen Ren, a dermatologist and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, sheds insight on this annual infliction.

A pair of hands seen from above in the process of putting on a hand cream.“Dry skin occurs when stratum corneum lipid content is decreased, leading to decreased water-binding capacity,” Ren explains. “Skin tends to be drier when the weather is less humid, so individuals should moisturize at least twice daily, if not more often.”

Dry skin can impact anyone; however, people suffering from eczema may be especially susceptible with weather changes. Atopic dermatitis, or “eczema,” is characterized by skin barrier dysfunction that predisposes to greater transepidermal water loss. Simply put, people with eczema tend to have more water pass from the dermis through the epidermis and evaporate, causing dry skin. This affliction is more commonly seen in children under 5, but also occurs in adults.

Moisture is the key to combating dry skin and thankfully, there are numerous options available.

Moisturizers have agents that lubricate the skin, prevent water loss, and attract water. When choosing a moisturizer, Ren advises opting for ointments or creams, as most lotions have higher water content and do not contain as much of the important agents required for preventing dry skin. Ointments, such as petroleum jelly, have higher concentration of lipids, which make them a great option; however, due to their greasy nature, some may find them bothersome. Topical agents that contain urea, lactic acid, ammonium lactate or alpha hydroxy acids may be beneficial for thick, scaly plaques of dry skin, but can be irritating if fissuring or cracking is present.

Other non-moisturizer-based strategies to combat dry skin include bringing in a humidifier into the home during the drier season and wearing clothing that adequately protects the skin from wind and cooling.

“Hot, frequent showers or baths longer than 5 to 10 minutes also dry out the skin,” Ren said. “Ideally, the water temperature should be lukewarm. After a shower or bath, gently pat dry and apply an emollient to damp skin to lock in moisture.”

Ren also warns individuals to be aware of their skin habits, as dry skin can be due to underlying issues, such as thyroid disease, kidney disease, liver disease, or cancer. If diligent adherence to good dry skin care habits is not helping or if the skin is severely inflamed, fissured, and/or crusted, Ren advises seeking out a dermatologist for guidance.

Learn more about Baylor Medicine Dermatology

By Aaron Nieto

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