Winter can be brutal for exposed skin – cold, dry air strips moisture from your skin. Add wild winds, cold wet rain or snow, and dry indoor heat to the equation, and exposed skin can develop dry, itchy, scaly patches that crack, peel, and bleed — all also are symptoms of chronic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.

Cold, harsh, wet weather can strip the skin’s protective barrier and worsen skin conditions and sensitivities – and the loss of moisture from our hands through constant and intense hand washing. The alcohol level in the hand sanitizer we use doesn’t help either. to protect ourselves from COVID-19.

When your skin is in its rough form, it can be a challenge to determine if your problem is severe chapping, even for dermatologists like Samer Jaber, MD, who founded Washington Square Dermatology in New York City.

“Dry, chapped, winter hands and hand eczema can look very similar,” explains Jaber. “Difference is the cause. Dry hands, winter is due to dry winter. Eczema is an inherited condition. Dry, cracked hands in winter are a form of dermatitis.”

Both Jaber and Rosemarie Ingleton, MD, founders of Ingleton Dermatology in New York City, told TODAY Health that dermatitis is a term used interchangeably in the dermatology community to describe what happens when Inflammatory cells invade an area of ​​the skin, causing inflammation.

“The way it manifests itself is you see more redness and a little bit of swelling,” Ingleton explains. “You see a lot of peeling. You can see the cracks. ‘ She says this level of redness, which can sometimes be subtle on darker skin, is a sign your skin needs help.

Is it dry skin or a more serious skin condition?

Skin conditions, like eczema and psoriasis, involve your immune system. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory skin condition that often affects children and adolescents, and can recur later in life. Believed to have something to do with the immune system, people with eczema may also be more susceptible to skin infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Jaber describes the symptoms of eczema as rough, inflamed, irritated, and itchy skin. “You may also experience scabs, cracks or blisters, and it may be painful to wash your hands. In severe cases, the fissures can bleed or ooze,” he says.

Ingleton says that people with childhood eczema can develop the condition through various stages of life, so dermatologists will take a patient’s history into account when determining if the skin problem is painful. whether their pain is eczema or not. “They are more prone to hand eczema later on,” she explains.

The National Psoriasis Foundation describes psoriasis as an immune-mediated disease, characterized by patches or scales on the skin, caused by “an overactive immune system that accelerates cell growth.” skin cells”. Normal skin cells fall off within a month, but with psoriasis, this happens after 3-4 days. The cells do not shed but pile up in “plaques” that cause itching, burning, and stinging. These patches are most commonly found on the elbows, knees, and scalp.

“Psoriasis looks a bit different from eczema in that the rash is much thicker and tends to have a thick white coat on the outside, almost a dry white layer, and a slightly thicker appearance,” says Ingleton. Ingleton said. “It tends to go beyond the knuckles, as opposed to going over the back of the hand. It can be on the palm of your hand. You have some clues that someone has psoriasis because you can look at their scalp, elbows and knees and see it, so it makes sense for them to have it on their hands as well.”

When to see a dermatologist?

How can we tell if we have severely dry, chapped winter skin or a condition that might require a dermatologist’s help?

Whether you’re suffering from eczema or your hands have just been blown away, Jaber says the first line of defense is moisturizing, moisturizing, moisturizing. Ingleton explains that if your dry, chapped skin doesn’t respond to repeated application of thick and rich moisturizers over a three to four day period, you should consider seeing a dermatologist. to determine the cause.

“If you don’t get a response, it could be that dermatitis or eczema is going on. It is even possible to get an infection without just a moisturizer. You will need some kind of prescription acute anti-inflammatory product or antibiotics if you have an infection,” she says.

4 products to heal dry winter skin

Both Ingleton and Jaber say that these thick and rich moisturizers make for great hand healers.

Dove Deep Moisture Hand Sanitizer, 2 oz.

Ingleton herself also uses this hand sanitizer to keep it moist and clean two for one. Nutrient-rich shea butter balances out the antiseptic 61% ethyl alcohol, leaving your hands clean and soft.

Vaseline Petroleum Jelly, 1.75 oz.

Jaber recommends this classic, emollient, inexpensive skin protectant to heal chapped hands (and lips!)

CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, 19 oz.

Fragrance can further irritate skin, so dermatologists love this fragrance-free and rich consistency and penetration to help heal chapped skin.

Eucerin Eczema Relief Cream, 5 oz.

Eucerin is a reputable skin care brand that produces a special line of products specially formulated with colloidal oatmeal, ceramide-3 and licorice root extract to help eczema-prone skin.

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