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Beat Dry Skin in Winter: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention & Effective Skincare Tips | Max Hospital

Dry Skin in Winter: Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention

By Dr. Pallavi Singh in Dermatology

Mar 19 , 2024 | 9 min read

Dry skin occurs when the skin's outer protective layer (Stratum Corneum) is depleted of water and its natural moisturising factors. Most cases of dry skin respond well to self-care but some cases with persistent dry skin do require medical care. It is a common skin problem that gets more persistent during winters, and although some people are more susceptible, anyone can develop the condition - regardless of age, gender or skin type. To help you deal with dry skin, especially during winter, in this article, we cover its causes, risk factors, and prevention and management tips. Read on.

Also, Read - Common skin conditions in winter and their prevention

Causes of Dry Skin in Winter

Dry skin in winter, often referred to as winter itch or winter dryness, can be caused by several factors:

  • Low Humidity: Cold air holds less moisture than warm air, and indoor heating further reduces humidity levels during winter months. This dry air can strip moisture from the skin, leading to dryness and dehydration.
  • Hot Showers and Baths: While hot showers and baths may feel comforting in cold weather, they can actually worsen dry skin by stripping away the skin's natural oils and moisture. Long, hot showers can disrupt the skin barrier, leading to increased dryness and irritation.
  • Harsh Weather Conditions: Exposure to harsh weather conditions, such as cold winds and low temperatures, can exacerbate dry skin by causing moisture loss and increasing skin sensitivity. Windburn and frostbite can further damage the skin barrier, leading to dryness and discomfort.
  • Indoor Heating: Indoor heating systems, such as central heating and space heaters, can contribute to dry skin by reducing humidity levels in indoor environments. Dry air from heating systems can evaporate moisture from the skin, leading to dryness and irritation.
  • Clothing Choices: Wearing tight-fitting or rough fabrics, such as wool or synthetic materials, can irritate the skin and exacerbate dryness. Additionally, wearing multiple layers of clothing can trap sweat and moisture against the skin, leading to increased dryness and discomfort.
  • Decreased Water Intake: During winter months, people may be less inclined to drink water due to colder temperatures. However, dehydration can worsen dry skin by reducing skin hydration levels and impairing skin function.
  • Underlying Medical Conditions: Dry Skin can be a symptom of many medical conditions like - Atopic dermatitis, Eczemas, Hypothyroidism, Kidney disease, Diabetes, Malignancies, Nutritional deficiency, HIV, Patients undergoing radiation therapy and due to intake of certain medication/drugs.

Seek medical help if a dry skin condition persists for long or self-care is not yielding the desired results. Consult with the best dermatologist in Delhi.

Signs and Symptoms of Dry Skin

Signs and symptoms of dry skin can vary depending on the severity and underlying causes but commonly include:

  • Tightness or Tautness: Dry skin often feels tight or taut, especially after washing or exposure to dry air.
  • Itching: Dry skin is often accompanied by itching, which may be mild to severe and can worsen with scratching.
  • Flaking or Scaling: Dry skin may appear flaky or have visible scales, particularly in areas prone to dryness, such as the legs, arms, and face.
  • Redness: Dry skin can become red or irritated, especially if scratched or exposed to harsh skincare products or environmental factors.
  • Rough Texture: Dry skin may feel rough or uneven to the touch, with a lack of smoothness or suppleness.
  • Cracks or Fissures: Severe dryness can cause the skin to crack or split, particularly in areas prone to friction or pressure, such as the hands, feet, elbows, and knees.
  • Ashy Appearance: Dry skin may have an ashy or dull appearance, especially in individuals with darker skin tones.
  • Sensitivity: Dry skin may be more sensitive to touch, temperature changes, and certain skincare products, leading to increased discomfort or irritation.

Risk Factors for Dry Skin

  • Ageing: As people age, their skin becomes thinner and produces less natural oils, making it more susceptible to dryness and dehydration.
  • Skin Care Products: Certain skincare products, such as harsh cleansers, exfoliants, and products containing alcohol or fragrances, can disrupt the skin's barrier function and contribute to dryness.
  • Genetics: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to dry skin, making them more prone to experiencing dryness and dehydration.
  • Occupational Factors: People who work in occupations that require frequent handwashing or exposure to chemicals, such as healthcare workers, hairdressers, and food service workers, may be at increased risk of developing dry skin.
  • Lifestyle Factors: Factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor nutrition, and dehydration can contribute to dry skin by impairing skin barrier function and reducing skin hydration levels.
  • Overexposure to Sun: Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can damage the skin's moisture barrier and contribute to dryness, especially if adequate sun protection measures are not taken.

By identifying and addressing these risk factors, individuals can take proactive steps to prevent and manage dry skin, promoting overall skin health and comfort.

Complications of Dry Skin

Dry skin can lead to several complications if left untreated or inadequately managed. Common complications of dry skin include:

  • Itching and Discomfort: Dry skin is often accompanied by itching, which can range from mild to severe and interfere with daily activities and sleep. Persistent scratching can further damage the skin, leading to irritation and inflammation.
  • Skin Infections: Dry, cracked skin provides an entry point for bacteria, viruses, and fungi, increasing the risk of skin infections such as cellulitis and folliculitis. These infections can cause redness, swelling, pain, and pus-filled lesions.
  • Dermatitis: Chronic dryness and irritation of the skin can lead to dermatitis, which is inflammation of the skin. Types of dermatitis commonly associated with dry skin include  atopic dermatitis (eczema), asteatotic eczema and nummular eczema. Symptoms may include redness, itching, flaking of skin lesions.
  • Cracks and Fissures: Severe dryness can cause the skin to become dry, cracked, and fissured, particularly in areas prone to friction or pressure, such as the hands, feet, elbows, and knees. Cracks in the skin can be painful, increase the risk of infection, and impair mobility.
  • Bleeding: Dry, cracked skin may bleed, especially if the skin is stretched, scratched or rubbed against clothing or other surfaces. Bleeding can further damage the skin and increase the risk of infection.
  • Impaired Wound Healing: Dry skin can impair the skin's ability to heal wounds, cuts, and abrasions. Delayed wound healing increases the risk of infection and complications, particularly in individuals with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes or compromised immune function.
  • Secondary Skin Changes: In severe cases of dry skin where there is constant rubbing and itching, secondary skin changes such as lichenification (thickening of the skin), scaling, and hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin) may occur, further contributing to discomfort and cosmetic concerns.

To prevent complications associated with dry skin, it's important to maintain a consistent skincare routine, use moisturisers regularly, avoid harsh skincare products and environmental triggers, and seek medical attention if dryness persists or worsens.

Tips to Prevent and Manage Dry Skin in Winter

Taking care of dry skin during winter requires adopting a consistent skincare routine and making lifestyle adjustments to help maintain skin hydration and protect against environmental factors. Here are some tips for caring for dry skin in winter:

  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated from the inside out. Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption, as they can dehydrate the body and exacerbate dry skin.
  • Moisturise Regularly: Apply a thick, emollient moisturiser immediately after bath to lock in moisture and keep the skin hydrated. Choose moisturisers that contain ingredients like hyaluronic acid,  shea butter, or ceramides to help repair and protect the skin barrier.
  • Use a Gentle Cleanser: Opt for a mild, fragrance-free cleanser that is formulated for dry or sensitive skin. Avoid using harsh soaps or cleansers that can strip away natural oils and further dry out the skin.
  • Limit Bathing Time: Take shorter showers or baths with lukewarm water instead of hot water, as hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils. Limit bathing time to 5-10 minutes to prevent excessive drying of the skin.
  • Protect from Cold Weather Conditions: Wear protective clothing, such as gloves, scarves, and hats, to shield the skin from cold winds and low temperatures. Use a moisturising lip balm to prevent chapped lips, and apply sunscreen to exposed skin when outdoors, as UV radiation can further damage dry skin.
  • Humidify Indoor Air: Use a humidifier to add moisture to indoor air and maintain humidity levels between 30-50%, especially in heated indoor environments. This can help prevent dryness and dehydration of the skin caused by indoor heating systems.
  • Exfoliate Gently: Use a gentle exfoliating scrub or a soft washcloth to remove dead skin cells and promote cell turnover. Exfoliation should be tried once the skin is well hydrated and not dry and sensitive. Avoid harsh exfoliants or scrubbing too vigorously, as this can irritate dry, sensitive skin.
  • Use a Humectant Serum: Consider adding a humectant serum containing ingredients like hyaluronic acid or glycerin to your skincare routine, if the humidity in weather is adequate. These ingredients help attract and retain moisture in the skin, keeping it hydrated and plump.
  • Protect Hands and Feet: Apply a rich moisturising cream or ointment to hands and feet before bed, and wear cotton gloves or socks overnight to lock in moisture and soften dry, cracked skin.
  • Avoid Irritants: Limit exposure to harsh skincare products, fragrances, and chemicals that can irritate dry skin and exacerbate symptoms. Opt for hypoallergenic and fragrance-free products whenever possible.

Also, Read - 9 Dry Skin Treatment and Prevention Tips from Dermatologist

By incorporating these skincare tips into your daily routine and making lifestyle adjustments to protect against environmental factors, you can help prevent and manage dry skin during winter months, maintaining healthy, hydrated skin year-round.

When to See a Doctor for Dry Skin?

You should consider seeing a doctor for dry skin if:

  • Home remedies and over-the-counter moisturisers fail to alleviate your symptoms.
  • Your dry skin is severe and accompanied by intense itching, redness, or pain.
  • Dry skin persists despite changes in skincare routines and environmental factors.
  • You have open sores, bleeding, or signs of infection on your skin.
  • You notice changes in your skin, such as thickening, scaling, or discoloration.
  • Dry skin is associated with other symptoms such as fever, fatigue, or joint pain.
  • You have a history of skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or dermatitis.
  • Dry skin is a recurring problem, especially during certain seasons or weather conditions.

In the aforementioned cases, a doctor, preferably a dermatologist, can provide a proper evaluation, diagnose underlying causes, and recommend appropriate treatments to help alleviate your dry skin symptoms and improve overall skin health.

Final words

While dry skin is a common and usually manageable condition, persistent or severe symptoms may require medical attention to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment. If you're experiencing troublesome dry skin that doesn't respond to home remedies or over-the-counter treatments, it's important to consult a specialist. At Max Hospitals, our team of dermatologists is dedicated to providing comprehensive care tailored to your individual needs. Whether you're dealing with chronic dryness, skin conditions, or concerns about your skin health, we're here to help.