Dry Skin Patches in the Winter

woman in winter park
A woman standing outside in the winter air. (Image: victoshafoto/iStock/Getty Images)

Winter is often associated with softly falling snowflakes, children sledding down snow-covered hills, crackling fireplaces and rich hot chocolate. Dry skin also becomes more prominent in the winter, resulting in scaly patches in areas not normally affected other times of the year. In fact, the wintery weather can also cause the skin to lose moisture in the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of skin, resulting in skin that cracks and flakes.

Dry Skin Basics

Individuals with pre-existing dry skin find the conditions worsen during the winter. As the outdoor temperature falls, the humidity falls with it, sucking moisture from your skin and making it dryer. Even indoors, the heater that is supposed to make the environment inside more comfortable, reduces the humidity in your home and dries out the skin.

Skin Symptoms

Red, scaly, round patches known as discoid eczema appears or becomes more prominent in the winter. These round or oval spots on the skin can cause extreme itchiness or be hardly noticeable. The skin surrounding these areas can feel tight and dry. Skin becomes rough, itchy and flaky, and the surface of the skin can fill with fine lines and cracks. Often dry skin is a temporary winter condition.

Dry Patch Problems

Scratching the dry patches can cause the skin to thicken and cause painful cracking. The hands and feet are more susceptible to this complication. The thickened skin appears leathery, rough and scared. Atopic dermatitis can develop causing the skin to become red, cracked and inflamed, possibly allowing a bacterial infection to develop. Cellulitis is a severe bacterial infection that can develop beneath the skin and is often accompanied by yellow crusts or pus seeping from the cracked areas. Other complications include sleeplessness, open sores, skin scaling and peeling from large areas, and areas that start to bleed. Seek immediate medical treatment if you're suffering any of these complications.

Treatments for Parched Patches

Avoid hot water and harsh soaps when bathing. Bathe in warm water, using moisturizing soaps and keeping it to no more than 10 minutes. Pat dry with a towel and apply a moisturizers to the skin within three minutes of taking a shower or bath, paying particular attention to hands, arms and legs. Apply over-the-counter topical cortisone creams to dry itchy patches. Place cool compresses on the itchy areas to help relieve the discomfort caused by dry skin. Try different types of moisturizers for dry skin areas, such as ointments, oils, creams or lotions.

Turn down the thermostat inside and use a humidifier to add moisture back to the air. Avoid wool and other rough fabrics that can irritate the skin. Always wear gloves during the winter to protect the hands and apply hand lotion often. Drink plenty of water to help keep the skin hydrated.

Treat severe cases of dry skin with prescription topical steroids, oral antihistamines or oral or topical antibiotics. Some doctors may recommend ultraviolet light treatment for severe cases of dry skin patches.

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