Changing weather doesn’t mean your skin has to feel dry, itchy, or inflamed.
That’s right, dry skin, known as atopic dermatitis, is common, especially in Oklahoma when the temperatures drop and the wind blows to moisten your skin. However, there are ways to manage this nuisance without changing your lifestyle. We’ll help you better understand why your skin is getting so dry in the first place, give you tips for treating it, and teach you how to deal with more serious conditions like psoriasis and eczema.
Why is my skin so dry?
Your skin has many layers, most notably the dermis and epidermis. The epidermis is the layer of skin that you can see. It serves as protection against anything and everything you come in contact with. The underlying dermis contains blood vessels, oil, and sweat glands.
Under normal circumstances, the epidermis creates a barrier that helps lock in moisture. In winter, a combination of things, such as hand washing and drier air from low humidity and indoor temperatures, damage this layer. Hot water, frequent bathing and certain skin diseases can also damage the outer part of your skin. As moisture escapes, you’re more likely to experience dryness, itchiness, and possible cracking, bleeding, or burning.
You may notice your hands, arms, and legs are especially dry in winter. These areas have fewer oil glands to protect the skin.
Older adults and people who tend to spend more time outdoors are more prone to dry skin. Sun exposure can damage the outer layer of skin that you need to stay hydrated. As you age, your skin also loses the natural oils it needs to protect it.
How to treat dry skin?
Since your skin becomes dry when it loses moisture, an easy solution is to use a lotion or moisturizer to replenish the water lost by the skin. When choosing a product, thicker options, such as kerosene, tend to work best because they have oils to help create a protective barrier.
However, an greasy formula isn’t always ideal to use on your hands. Find a product that works for you and use it several times a day. That’s more important than choosing expensive ingredients. Keep in mind that you’ll have to apply it more in the winter as it’s drier.
Moisturizer or lotion works best when you apply it after showering or washing your hands. Apply the product on damp skin to keep it moist. Before moisturizing, be sure to avoid using scented soaps or cleansers that can strip oils from your skin. Choose a gentle cleanser that doesn’t contain chemicals. Cetaphil or Aveeno work well for washing your hands or body.
When you shower or bathe, consider the temperature you use. You might think that taking a hot shower can help soothe your skin, but anything that’s too hot can actually make your skin drier by taking away too much moisture.
Try using a humidifier in your home to keep it moist. Not only is the outside air dry, but humidity plummets in winter when your fireplace or heater pumps warm, dry air into your home.
If your skin is so dry that it cracks and starts to itch, you should avoid scratching. Like insect bites, scratching can make the condition worse and invite bacteria into your skin. For pain relief, try an antihistamine ointment.
Common types of dermatological diseases
If you have dry skin from the weather or from exposure to products that damage your skin, that’s one thing. Many people also have skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, which can be aggravated in the winter.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic skin problems. Normally, the epidermis receives old skin cells and produces new cells each month. With psoriasis, your immune system mistakes healthy skin cells for unhealthy, so it signals the epidermis to grow skin at an abnormal rate. Skin cells have nowhere to go, causing a buildup of inflamed, red, and raised areas of skin.
Even though the illness is long-lasting, you will face flare-ups that lead to inflamed areas of your skin. Plaque psoriasis is the most common type where your skin develops dry, silvery scales. Your nails often thicken or harden, and plaque psoriasis can also lead to joint problems, known as psoriatic arthritis.
By definition, eczema is a broad term that refers to conditions that make the skin red, itchy, and inflamed. It is often used as an alternative to atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema that causes patches of dry, scaly skin. This skin disease is chronic and affects all ages, although it is more common in children.
The exact cause is unknown, but research indicates that people with eczema have problems making a protein that protects your skin. Without it, moisture can escape and you may be more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections.
Treatment of chronic skin problems
Aside from the severity, the type of treatment is the key difference between common dry skin and skin disorders. You’ll need more than a trip to your local pharmacy to buy a moisturizer or lotion.
Psoriasis and eczema are both chronic conditions, but there are several options for managing symptoms. Treatment for psoriasis can range from prescription creams to stronger medications that you take by mouth or by injection. Light therapy (phototherapy) can help treat psoriasis that affects a large part of the body. Your doctor may also recommend immunosuppressive drugs that slow cell growth or PDE4 inhibitors or other biologics to suppress the immune system response that causes inflammation.
We’ve already mentioned how too much sun exposure can be harmful to your skin, but sun exposure can help in small doses. Try sun exposure a few times a week to slow psoriasis-related skin growth.
Similarly, eczema is treated by reducing inflammation with antihistamines, steroid creams, or injectable steroids. There are some medications that also suppress the immune system causing inflammation. You can talk to your doctor about a topical calcineurin inhibitor, a topical PDE4 inhibitor, or a biologic called Dupilumab. Prescribing a skin protectant cream can also help protect your skin.
Psoriasis and mental health
Psoriasis and mental health is a chicken-or-egg discussion to identify the culprit. Coping with psoriasis is a challenge in itself. Then there’s the issue of how this disorder can change your appearance, from scaly patches in your hair to scaly patches on your skin.
Self-consciousness and fear of being judged for one’s appearance can cause mental health problems. However, mental health disorders can also lead to psoriasis. Regardless of the source, these problems become cyclical because psoriasis can cause anxiety when you go out in public, or it can create feelings of isolation that lead to depression. Although you may wear more clothes during the colder months, you can still see psoriasis on your face, neck, arms, and hands.
This pattern continues because stress often makes psoriasis symptoms worse. A review of multiple psychological studies found that chronic stress can lead to increased levels of inflammatory cytokines. This immune system response creates more inflammation and can cause more problems with your skin conditions.
In this case, you are not only dealing with the weather when winter arrives, but you also have to deal with the mental health aspect. You can become more stressed during the winter months when it’s tiring and you spend more time indoors.
Managing your stress and mood is very important during this time. Try to exercise or participate in an activity that brings you joy. If you experience any changes in behavior, thoughts or feelings and think dry skin is affecting your mental health, contact your INTEGRIS Health primary care physician to discuss next steps.
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