Winter Annoyance – A Dry Skin
Dry skin is common in the general population. Dry skin can be a simple status of the skin and does not necessarily reflect any cutaneous disease. Very dry skin, common at certain ages or environmental conditions, can, however, stimulate skin disease. Certain cutaneous diseases show scaly and dry skin as a primary clinical manifestation. Finally, I will review how to prevent and how to manage dry skin, a common objective if you want to achieve a healthy skin.
Have you ever noticed how your skin responds to the changing seasons? If so, you’ve likely noticed that your skin often seems to get drier and flakier in colder winter months from October to February.
Cold air, dry indoor heat, low humidity levels, and harsh winter wind can all zap your skin of moisture. This can leave your skin looking a lot less radiant than normal — not only your face, but also your hands, feet, and other areas exposed to the elements.
There are steps you can take to keep your skin looking healthy, even when temperatures dip and there’s no escape from winter’s dry, cold air.
The medical term for dry skin is xerosis. Symptoms can range in severity and look different depending on the area of your body that’s affected.
What are the signs of dry skin?
Flakiness or scaliness
Raw, Irritated Skin
Cracks in your skin
Mechanism of Dry Skin
Dry skin with chronic itch is the most common clinical manifestation of dermatoses, such as xerosis, atopic dermatitis (AD), and psoriasis, and is a common cutaneous manifestation in pruritic systemic diseases, such as chronic kidney disease (CKD), chronic liver diseases (CLD), and diabetes mellitus (DM). Histamine is a well-known substance that induces itch; however, antihistamines (histamine H1-receptor blockers) are not fully effective in many dermatological and systemic diseases characterized by dry skin, suggesting that dry skin is an important feature of antihistamine-resistant (histamine-independent) itch. The underlying condition of dry skin is impaired function of the skin barrier, which can be caused by environmental factors, such as sun exposure, temperature, humidity, and genetic factors, such as filaggrin mutations. To assess skin barrier function, transepidermal water loss (TEWL), subcutaneous hydration, and pH are commonly used. The signs and clinical manifestations of dry skin are not only physically uncomfortable, but also affect patients psychologically.
The sensation of itch is generated by the binding of itch-inducing substances to their cognate receptors on peripheral sensory afferents, e.g., unmyelinated C- fiber afferents and thinly myelinated Aδ-fiber afferents. The evoked action potential is transmitted through the ascending sensory pathway to the somatosensory cortex, resulting in the perception of itch.
The perception of itch starts when endogenous and exogenous itch mediators activate their respective receptors/channels expressed in peripheral sensory afferents. Electric signals generated in the peripheral nerve endings are transmitted to the somatosensory cortex in the brain through the spinal cord, resulting in the recognition of itch. (A) In healthy skin, Sema3A, a nerve repulsion factor (NRF) produced mainly by keratinocytes (KCs), is dominant. It maintains the cutaneous nerve fibers under the dermo-epidermal junction. (B) During environmental stimuli in acute dry skin conditions, nerve growth factor (NGF), an epidermal nerve elongation factor (NEF) produced by KCs, is prominent and induces the elongation of cutaneous nerve fibers into the epidermis. This elongation may also be affected by thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) and interleukin (IL)-33 released from KCs. NGF also promotes matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-2 and MMP-8 production in sensory nerve fibers, which leads to the penetration of nerve fibers into the basement membrane and their growth.Emollients and phospholipids are effective at alleviating the symptoms in this phase. (C) In chronic dry skin accompanying the itch-scratch cycle, such as in systemic or inflammatory skin diseases, more sensory nerve fibers penetrate the epidermis. In addition to substances released from KCs, the non-peptidergic C-fibers (NP cluster) are also involved in itch signaling, along with astrocytes in the spinal cord. More treatments have been confirmed to be beneficial in this condition.
How to prevent dry winter skin
Dry winter skin isn’t inevitable. By making some changes to your skin care regimen and habits, and using the right products, you may be able to keep your skin looking soft, smooth, and vibrant all winter long.
Let’s take a closer look at few tips that may help you boost the health of your skin during the colder months of the year.
- Keep Yourself Hydrated from the inside
Primary key step to keeping your skin healthy and glowing is to make sure you’re staying well hydrated throughout the day. Not taking in enough fluid can affect the appearance of your skin and also make it more susceptible to drying out.
Both nutrients can protect your cells from environmental damage and help your body make healthy cells, including skin cells.
- Pick for Nonirritating Fabrics
A suitable rule when dealing with any skin problem is to avoid wearing harsh materials. If the skin on your body is extra dry, try wearing loose, comfortable, natural fabrics to reduce the risk of extra physical irritation.
Also, avoid washing your clothes in regular detergents. Look for detergents formulated for sensitive skin, which will likely be free of harsh chemicals and fragrances.
- Moisturize right after washing
Any time you wash your face, hands, or body, you strip your skin of its natural oils. Since these oils help to lock in moisture, it’s vital to replace them. That’s why it’s important to use a moisturizer every time you wash your skin, especially in winter.
As a helpful reminder, try stocking a bottle of moisturizer next to your sink and keep a travel-size moisturizer with you when you’re on the go.
Moisturizers that work particularly well for dry winter skin includes essential ceramides and hyaluronic acid to hydrate your skin and protect your skin’s moisture barrier.
Cream that formulated with glacial glycoprotein and olive-derived squalene, this lightweight facial moisturizer is specifically formulated to help your skin withstand cold, dry conditions.
Nourishing hand and body cream contains both vitamin E and jojoba oil. It allows it to absorb quickly into your skin.
- Apply Sunscreen daily
Given the shorter winter days and less sunlight, it can be tempting to cut sunscreen out of your morning routine — but think again. Even in winter, harmful UV light can still stress your skin’s moisture barrier, which is vital for maintaining skin health and hydration.
Try adding a layer of sunscreen each morning after you’ve applied a moisturizer.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends using sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
- Use overnight treatments
Overnight treatments are an excellent way to revitalize or prevent dry skin. Emollients are great for moisturizing. However, because they’re a heavier type of cream, it can take longer for them to be absorbed into your skin.
By applying an emollient to your skin overnight, your skin will have the time it needs to absorb the treatment and for the emollient to replenish your skin with the moisture and oils it needs.
- Go easy on exfoliants and scrubs
Exfoliation, which helps remove dead skin cells from the surface of your skin, can help keep your skin looking smooth and vibrant. But it’s possible to overexfoliate your skin if you do it too often or use the wrong products.
If your skin looks dry or flaky, you may want to opt for a gentle chemical exfoliant rather than a physical scrub. Harsher scrubs with large particles may be more likely to break down your skin’s moisture barrier and cause damage.
If your skin is cracked, raw, or irritated, it may be best to avoid exfoliation until your skin has healed.
- Try adding occlusives to your routine
Using emollients to help smooth and repair your skin barrier. But, if you find that emollient ingredients aren’t doing enough to heal your dry skin, you may want to consider incorporating occlusive ingredients into your skin care routine.
Occlusive ingredients provide a physical barrier to lock moisture into your skin. Examples of occlusive ingredients include:
The best way to work these products into your routine is to apply them once or twice per day after moisturizing.
When to see a doctor
While many at-home remedies can help battle dry skin, it’s important to reach out to a healthcare provider or dermatologist if your dry skin symptoms become worse or don’t improve.
They will have recommendations for over-the-counter and prescription treatments meant just for your symptoms.
It’s not uncommon to experience dry, flaky skin in winter that not only affects your face, but also your hands, feet, and other areas that are exposed to the elements.
The key to keeping your skin healthy is to moisturize your skin frequently with the right products.
If you find that your dry skin isn’t improving with at-home remedies, consider following up with your healthcare provider for the right treatment.