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Winter Itch - itchy skin when it's cold outside

Updated on October 24, 2010

Scratch that itch

Winter Itch (winter pruritis, or xerotic eczema) is that type of itchy skin you get when it's cold and dry outside. It's caused by dehydration. Wintertime makes the problem worse for a few reasons:

  • the air is dry outside, drying your skin out more rapidly
  • the lower temperature makes your skin produce less moisture-trapping oil
  • you often spend a longer time in a hotter shower because it feels nice, although this also robs your skin of the natural emollients that keep your skin moist
  • forced-air heating can worsen the problem, by combining a draft with warm, dry air; look at how a hair dryer works
  • we wear more, heavier clothing, which can rub against skin and irritate it

What can you do about winter itch?

Don't just suffer and scratch. Here are 10 tips to help get you through until springtime:

  1. Moisturize every day. It's best to do right after you've towel-dried after showering, while your skin is still moist.
  2. Keep your showers shorter and cooler.
  3. Turn on the humidifier, if you have one. Otherwise, consider putting pots of water over your radiator or heater.
  4. Avoid windburn, which will accelerate the drying of your skin.
  5. Keep drinking water. Dry lips are a tell-tale sign that you're not drinking enough water. But drinking alone will not do the trick of hydrating your skin.
  6. Use lip balm, especially when you sleep. And avoid licking your lips constantly to moisten them. This will actually make your lips more dry.
  7. Bathe with oats. Colloidal oats will soothe irritated, dry skin, and won't dry out like soap. Aveeno makes a line of oat-based, mild soaps and bath products.
  8. Use mild, moisturizing soaps. Choose Neutrogena, Cetaphil and Dove over deoderant soaps like Zest.
  9. Pat dry. Don't rub. Rubbing will remove more protective moisturizers on your skin.
  10. Protect your arms and legs. They have fewer sweat and oil glands, so they have a natural tendency to dry out. Because forced-air heating, especially, can exacerbate winter itch, turn down the thermostat a notch and wear long sleeves and long pants instead.


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