Winter has arrived, and for many of us, that means the all-too-familiar-itch in the middle of our back every time we reach for something. We might notice the flakes of skin at the tip of our nose, or the chalkiness on our hands. Dry skin is already a common problem after the age of 60; throw in the cold dry air of winter and it is just…well, just plain IRRITATING! Here are some tips to help keep your skin soft and supple during the winter months.

Avoid Hot Water

It can be very tempting in the winter to soak in a hot bath or take an extra long hot shower to warm yourself up, but this can exacerbate dry skin because hot water strips moisturizing oils from the skin. Remember that you can shower every other day or substitute a shower for a sponge bath (but keep in mind that is important to always bathe after being exposed to chlorinated water). If you must shower daily, use a moisturizing soap or emollient bath oil that is designed to prevent the loss of moisture from the skin, ease itching, soften cracks and reduce scaling. Be careful: some of these products can make the bathtub a bit slippery. When you get out of the shower or bath, pat your skin dry with a towel instead of rubbing.

Moisturize with Lotion, Creams or Ointments

The most obvious treatment options are lotion, creams and ointments – and it almost seems silly to talk about applying them, but there are a few things you may not realize about lotions. Scented and alcohol-based lotions could be sapping moisture or irritating your skin. The thickness of the lotion is also an important factor. The thicker the lotion, the better it protects. Turn the container over and see if the lotion runs or drips quickly to the other end; if so, it may be too thin to offer the protection you need in the winter months. Creams and ointments are more effective in winter because they offer more moisture and protection. Applying when skin is moist or within three minutes of bathing ensures maximum prevention of dryness by locking the moisture into the skin. For really dry spots like feet, elbows, and knees, try petroleum jelly. It may be thick and greasy, but applying at night to feet and hands and sleeping with socks and gloves can really make a difference. Carrying a small bottle of lotion with you for after you wash your hands throughout the day can keep them from cracking. Try oil-based cosmetics for mature skin instead of those made for teenagers who are trying to avoid acne and oily skin.

Drink Water

We hear it all the time: for proper health and nutrition, drink more water. What we don’t realize is that 72% of our skin’s weight is water — so by drinking lots of water, you’re maintaining your skin’s integrity.

What’s Next to Your Skin?

Keep a close eye on your environment and what you put next to your skin. Moisture is what is missing from the cold dry air of winter. You can add some of it back by using a humidifier. Dust mites irritate skin, so make sure you wash your sheets and vacuum weekly. Certain scented laundry detergents and dryer sheets can also irritate sensitive skin, making it harder to heal. Wear gloves when cleaning to protect hands from chemicals, and remember to frequently wash hats, gloves and scarves to remove any winter funkiness they might have touched.

Carrie Robertson
Research & Community Education

Chicago Skilled Nursing
Chicago Senior Living


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