Apostle Islands Ice Caves on frozen Lake Superior, Wisconsin

It goes without saying that it’s been a rough winter! Although spring is theoretically around the corner, this harsh winter weather has definitely taken a toll on my patients’ skin. At least three to four times a day, I see patients who come in with a rash that is infamously known as the “winter itch.” What is the winter itch? It’s a type of eczema that results from dry winter skin. Winter itch is something that almost all New Englanders are susceptible to.

If you are over the age of 65, your risk of winter itch is even higher. In fact, according to a report from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), 81 million Americans claim to experience dry, itchy or scaly skin during the winter months.

So here is what you can do to survive these last few weeks of winter and repair your skin in time for spring! Here’s to healthy skin.

Add humidity to your home. Given the sub-zero temps we’ve been having, most of us have cranked up the heat. Unfortunately, this dries out your skin. Portable humidifiers or those that work with your heating system put moisture in the air that will be absorbed by your skin and hair.

Use an oil-based moisturizer. Ointments or heavy creams seal water in the skin and preserve moisture. Good old vaseline is my favorite emollient ointment. If you cannot tolerate that, then I also like Cerave cream, which is widely available.

Quick Short Showers. Frequent bathing or hot showers or baths can strip your skin of natural oils. Avoid deodorant bars and perfumed soaps, as well as alcohol-based products. Showers should be luke-warm and no more than 10 minutes. When you get out of the shower, pat your skin dry and moisturize immediately.

If you have a rash, seek help: Even with the best skin care, some people will still develop full blown eczema, which is basically a red itch rash. If this happens to you, you’ll want to make an appointment to see a dermatologist right away. Eczema can usually be treated with topical medication, although sometimes stronger oral medications are necessary.

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