Winter is hard on skin and scalp. With its low humidity, heated air pulls moisture out of the skin. This time of year millions of people suffer from dry skin, chapped lips and dandruff.
Frequent hand washing also dries skin out in the winter. We are all urged to wash our hands frequently to avoid colds or the flu. Health workers are especially susceptible to dry skin since they must wash before and after each patient.
People with eczema also suffer with itchy rashes, particularly on the hands or where the skin creases. Dry skin makes it worse.
What can people do at this time of year to keep from aggravating dry skin? Dermatologists often suggest using a less drying cleanser than soap. Some waterless hand cleansers are formulated to be less drying. For the face or body, consider a nonsoap cleanser such as Cetaphil or CeraVe. Both contain cetearyl alcohol, a nondrying cleaning ingredient.
Once skin is clean, particularly if it was washed with water, excess dampness should be gently patted off and the moisture should be trapped on the skin with a moisturizer. This helps ease itching and reduces skin cracking on knuckles and fingertips. The idea is the same as covering a slice of apple with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.
In recommending moisturizers, dermatologists used to say, “The greasier, the better.” That’s not always practical: greasy skin doesn’t work well at a computer keyboard or on a cell phone. Instead, look for a product that rubs in well. Save the greasier formulation (for example, Aquaphor, A&D Ointment or Vaseline petroleum jelly) for nighttime when you can wear cotton gloves or socks after applying it.
Barnyard beauty aids originally developed for cows’ udders are also excellent skin moisturizers. They have the advantage of being very affordable. Bag Balm from the Dairy Association Company of Lyndonville, VT, is greasy and smelly but effective (800-232-3610). Udder Cream from Redex Industries in Salem, OH, is more appealing and also quite helpful against dry skin (800-345-7339). (Redex Industries underwrites the People’s Pharmacy radio show.)
Dandruff requires a different approach. It’s not practical to put moisturizer on the scalp.
Dermatologists believe many cases of dandruff are due to a yeast infection on the scalp. Controlling the yeast often cuts down on flakes. Some people report great success rinsing the scalp with dilute vinegar or Listerine (apply for five minutes before shampooing).
Others find that using different kinds of dandruff shampoo in rotation every few weeks helps control itching and flaking. Start with an antifungal product such as Nizoral A-D and then switch to a selenium-containing shampoo like Selsun Blue. Next, try a zinc pyrithione preparation such as Head & Shoulders.
With care, indoor heating and frequent hand washing need not dry out your skin and scalp this winter.