Dealing with dry skin
Concerning your Health
By Dr. Jennifer Beckwith
Why is my skin so dry and itchy in the winter?
Winter weather, as well as forced heat which accompanies the closed doors, and reduced airflow in winter, contribute to drying out the skin. Smoking, frequent washing of hands, hot showers or baths that wash away natural skin oils, and use of harsh soaps, chemicals and cleaning products intensify dry skin conditions. Aging and a diet with insufficient vitamins and nutrients factor into dry skin conditions too. As many as 17.8 million Americans of all ages have eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. Rash-like conditions, chronic inflammation, redness and itching are also symptoms of eczema. In addition to eczema, medical conditions that increase the likelihood of dry skin include diabetes and thyroid disorders.
How do I treat dry skin?
Avoid using scented lotions and soaps because they can irritate skin. Take shorter showers or baths and no more than one a day. To reduce taking moisture out of your skin, pat the skin dry instead of rubbing it with the towel. To retain moisture, apply an unscented lotion within 10 minutes of drying the skin. In winter months when air is already dryer, running a humidifier helps return moisture to your indoor environment. It also important that you drink water to stay hydrated, which helps keep moisture in the skin.
How do I treat eczema?
Symptoms can be managed, but there is no cure for eczema. Use an emollient wash rather than soaps, and use lukewarm water when bathing or showering. Avoid scented lotions and soaps that can irritate skin. Liberally apply emollients to affected skin every day even if you are not having active symptoms. Use emollients with a high oil content and low water content, or thick creams low in water. Examples include Cetaphil, Eucerin, Aquaphor, Aquaphilic, Cerave, Restoraderm and Petroleum Jelly. Most importantly, don’t scratch! Scratching the itchy skin only worsens the scaling, itching and redness.
When should I see a doctor about my skin?
Your primary care doctor is your first defense for any type of skin problem. Family medicine physicians are trained to diagnose and treat skin-related problems Out-of-control skin conditions can result in life-long or permanent problems. For instance, uncontrolled eczema can lead to permanent skin discoloration and hardening, scarring, and infection. Likewise, severe acne can cause permanent scarring and secondary infections. Your doctor should examine moles that change in shape, size or color because changing moles can be indicative of melanoma, a type of skin cancer. After diagnosing your type of skin problem, your doctor can prescribe oral and topical medications, as well as treatment regimens such as steroids, that are highly effective for specific treatments. If your skin issue warrants specialty care or surgery, your primary care doctor will refer you to a dermatologist.
Jennifer Beckwith, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician, sees patients at Sanford North Mandan Clinic. Dr. Beckwith completed her undergraduate degree and medical degree at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, and then did her residency at the UND Center for Family Medicine in Bismarck.