Many people find that their skin feels dry and irritated in the winter, but if it's accompanied by intense and constant itching, you could be suffering from a condition called pruritus hiemalis.
A form of dermatitis, this uncomfortable skin concern is more commonly referred to as the winter itch and can affect the whole body in the colder months—including the scalp, hands, face, and feet. It often becomes much worse at night or when you change your clothes, and it can affect your legs in particular.
So, how can you reduce this condition and the inevitable winter rash that comes with it?
4 Tips to Help You Beat the Winter Itch
1. Understand Your Skin's Changing Needs
One way you can prevent the winter itch is by understanding your skin's changing needs through the seasons. In the winter, your skin has to defend itself against a number of environmental aggressors, like cold outside weather and dry indoor heat. This contrast in temperature can dehydrate the skin and, in turn, affect its protective barrier function. Once this is impaired, the skin is unable to retain water in the way it should, increasing the risk of dry, itchy skin. Nourishing your dermis with the hydration and protection it needs to stay healthy will prevent future flareups.
2. Tweak Your Skin Care Routine
Think of your skin care in the same way you do your clothes: opt for lightweight layered products in the summer and more comforting, thicker formulas in the winter. Richer body moisturizers are packed full of ingredients that are vital for keeping winter skin hydrated, including glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and anti-inflammatory ingredients like niacinamide. If you're already suffering from itchy skin, emollients and very hydrating moisturizers can also help the skin to heal and stop the itch-scratch cycle in its tracks.
Don't forget that wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer. Sunscreen not only protects the skin from ultraviolet rays but also helps to defend your skin barrier against environmental damage.
3. Avoid Hot Showers and Baths
When you've spent a cold day outside, a hot bath or shower can be a very inviting prospect. But bathing in very hot water can actually dehydrate the skin and increase the risk of winter itch, or further exacerbate an ongoing condition. Avoid this by adjusting the water temperature to lukewarm while limiting the time you spend bathing to a maximum of 10 minutes. Then, apply a hydrating body moisturizer to the skin immediately after bathing to lock in moisture.
4. Wear Soft Clothes
Rough-textured fabrics like wool or mohair can irritate your skin, so avoid those fabrics if you suffer from itchy skin. Instead, opt for very soft, lightweight layers that fit looser on the body, and make sure you layer a long-sleeved jersey or cotton top underneath heavier sweaters to keep the knit from directly touching your skin and exacerbating the itch.
Your skin may require a little extra TLC in the winter months, but going the extra step will keep you healthy and happy all winter long.