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Colorado winters aren’t easy on the skin.
The air outside is cold, dry and lacking in humidity, which can cause skin irritation and dehydration. People also tend to do things to stay warm inside, such as run the heat in their homes or crank up the hot water in the shower. The natural elements and our reactions to them can contribute to dry skin conditions, which are more frequent in the wintertime.
Dr. Laurie Good, board-certified dermatologist at Memorial Regional Health, said it’s just as important in Colorado’s dry climate to use a daily moisturizing cream from head-to-toe as it is to drink water.
“The older you are, the more important that is because we become less adept at retaining moisture with age,” she said.
Dry skin conditions
Skin that becomes abnormally dry, itchy and cracked is called asteatotic eczema, a condition that patients experience more frequently during the wintertime. Asteatotic eczema can also include little dry pink bumps, sometimes with a dry riverbed appearance, Dr. Good said. This most commonly occurs on the back, flank and lower legs or ankles.
When the seasons change, seborrheic dermatitis, which is the medical term for dandruff, is another condition that can warrant a patient visit. Dandruff usually presents with a greasy, yellow scale and sometimes itching on the scalp and central face.
“Seborrheic dermatitis typically presents with an itchy, flaky scalp, but it also commonly occurs between the eyebrows, the sides of the nose and in the ears,” Dr. Good said. “The change in temperature, humidity and bathing habits can all contribute to flare of ‘seb derm.’”
Other skin conditions that arise during the winter include chapped lips, acne, eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.
Remember, even though winter days are shorter and darker, putting on sunscreen is just as important as it is during the summer. UVB rays can damage skin all year long, especially at high altitudes and on reflective surfaces such as snow or ice. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, snow reflects up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV light, which can increase the risk of skin cancer and premature aging.
If you have asteatotic eczema, scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist could be beneficial if the itchy skin doesn’t resolve or significantly improve after reducing shower temperature and applying daily moisturizing cream. It’s also time to visit the doctor if the condition appears to truly be a rash and not just marks from scratching, or if there are any other symptoms or locations associated with the itching, Dr. Good said.
If you have typical scalp or facial dandruff, Dr. Good said alternating over-the-counter shampoos like Clinical Strength Head and Shoulders and Neutrogena T/Sal can be very effective.
“If it does not resolve with showering three times weekly with one or the other of these shampoos, seeing a dermatologist is a reasonable next step,” she said.
Per sunscreen recommendations, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher to all exposed areas of your skin, especially on days when you hit the slopes or explore the outdoors. Don’t forget to cover frequently missed spots such as ears, neck, hairline and around the eyes.
Other tips to help avoid common dry skin conditions during winter months include:
- Moisturize daily with a fragrance-free cream or ointment.
- Use warm, but not hot, water in the shower.
- Try a humidifier if you are eczema-prone to add moisture to the air.
- Use gentle cleansers that don’t deplete moisture from skin.