Winter brings with it lots of changes—colder temperatures, snow and storms, coats, and the holidays.
But it also brings changes to our skin. Winter weather affects our skin differently than during any other time of year. A visit to our dermatologists can pinpoint specific issues and help create a personalized skin care plan for winter and all year-round.
Understanding how winter weather impacts your skin is the first step in keeping your skin healthy and beautiful all winter long.
How the Winter Season Affects Our Skin
Winter weather can be brutal, especially in Colorado. Those harsh conditions can be felt on the skin all over your body and require care and treatment that is different from the rest of the year. Here are six common ways your skin is affected in the winter:
The most noticeable change for most people’s skin in the winter is dryness. Winter air is known for being dry because as the temperature decreases and the humidity levels drop, the air naturally becomes drier, which causes skin to dry out.
Colorado has dry air all year-round, but it is particularly noticeable in the winter. Dry air means your skin has fewer opportunities to gain moisture from the environment.
Dryer air also causes the water in the skin to evaporate more quickly. Fluctuations in temperature or the start of the new season change the temperature and humidity, which makes the skin work harder to maintain moisture.
As the skin loses moisture and is exposed to dry air, the natural barrier that protects skin is weakened, which causes it to feel dryer. With dry winter weather comes wind, which can further deplete a skin’s moisture.
Aside from the weather, dry skin can also get worse as we adopt winter habits and activities to stay warm, such as taking hot showers, sitting by the fire, and running central heating in our homes. These activities make the air around you even dryer and leave your skin exposed to that same dryness.
Between cold temperatures, a lack of humidity, wind, and human behavior, it’s no wonder most people experience dry skin in the winter.
Chapped lips are another victim to dry winter weather and are a common occurrence when the weather changes. The skin on your lips is thinner and more sensitive than the skin on other areas of your body, so as the air becomes dryer, so does the skin on your lips. T
he outer layer of skin on your lips can flake and crack, which reveals the more sensitive skin underneath and can be painful. You may even notice chapped and dry lips before you notice dry skin on other parts of your body. Chapped lips can be itchy, flaky, and even start to crack.
Itchiness and Flakiness
Cold temperatures, dry air, and the winter wind can strip away the skin’s natural protective layer and cause the skin to feel itchy. That itchiness is also increased by the skin being dryer than normal. Some people experience itchiness all over their skin, while others have isolated itchy patches on different parts of their body.
As the skin becomes itchy and uncomfortable, you’re more likely to scratch it, which can cause small cracks in the skin and make the problem worse.
Thick fabrics that are common in the winter, like wool and other rough materials, can keep you warm, but they can also irritate and rub against dry skin. Going between warm, heated buildings and cold outside air can also cause you to sweat and overheat, but then cool down rapidly. This cycle can trigger itchiness and lead to scratching and further itchiness.
Skin conditions like seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis, which typically cause itchy flaky skin, tend to be worse in the winter because of the lack of moisture in the air and the colder temperatures. If you have an underlying skin condition, you are at greater risk for experiencing other negative winter side effects on your skin.
A lack of moisture and humidity commonly leads to cracked skin, especially on fingertips and heels. Cracked skin is typically caused by extreme dryness. These cracks can be difficult to heal and cause major pain and discomfort during the winter. In some cases, the cracks can become infected and make it painful to walk and do everyday tasks.
People typically wash their hands more often during the winter months and cold and flu season. While washing your hands is effective at removing germs, it can also strip away your skin’s natural oils and leave hands feeling dry and cracked. Leaving your hands exposed to the cold, dry air by not wearing gloves can also increase the cracking.
Rashes and Redness
As skin is exposed to cold air, it loses its natural moisture and oils, which can leave the skin feeling dry. Skin that is extremely dry can turn into a rash or red area, especially if it is left untreated. If your skin gets wet by wearing wet clothes or shoes, that can also irritate the skin and lead to redness and rashes if you don’t change out of wet clothes quickly.
Many people are prone to redness and rashes year-round because of conditions like eczema and rosacea. These conditions tend to be worse in the dry air of winter and can lead to more flare-ups.
Sunburns and UV Damage
Many people think that sunburns are only a problem in the summer, but they can actually be more devastating and dangerous during the winter months. In areas of high altitude like Colorado, the atmosphere is thinner, which makes it easier for harmful UVB rays to get through.
Reflective surfaces like snow can also increase the power of UV rays and lead to sunburns. Snow bounces back 80% of the sun’s rays, compared to water and sand that only reflect back 20% of rays. That means that when you are in the sun and snow, you are essentially getting hit with UV rays twice, which can be dangerous for unprotected skin without sunscreen.
How to Care For Winter Skin
Just because winter weather affects our skin differently than other parts of the year doesn’t mean we have to be miserable and uncomfortable for the entire season. An updated skin care routine can address the common issues of winter skin.
The root of most issues with winter skin is a lack of moisture. To fight this from the inside, make sure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day. You can also run a humidifier in your house, especially at night, to add more moisture to the air.
Keep skin protected from cold winter air by bundling up when you go outside, especially wearing gloves. Dressing in layers can help regulate your temperature as you go in and out of buildings, which may eliminate some of the itchiness.
Keep your skin moisturized at all times and use thicker lotions and moisturizers that are oil-based, not water-based. Products with lots of water will evaporate faster and can actually leave your skin feeling dryer in the winter, while oil-based products soak deeper into the skin and replenish the skin’s natural oils that are depleted in the cold, dry air.
Look for thicker creams and ointments in the winter instead of thinner lotions. For best results, apply moisturizer throughout the day, especially after you wash your hands. Applying a night moisturizer so your skin can heal and soak up the moisture while you sleep can also be incredibly helpful.
Don’t skimp on sunscreen in the winter, especially on your lips. A daily sunscreen, even on cold and cloudy days, can protect your skin from harmful UV rays. Be sure to regularly apply lip balm with SPF to protect and moisturize the sensitive skin on your lips.
Shorten your showers and use lukewarm water instead of hot water. Hotter shower water can remove oil from the skin. When you get out of the shower, pat your body dry instead of rubbing it, which can agitate the skin and lead to bumps and redness.
Patting dry your skin can also help keep the water moisture in the skin instead of causing it to evaporate quickly and leave the skin feeling dryer. Moisturize as soon as you are out of the bath or shower.
A dermatologist can also help with issues that aren’t going away with home remedies. If your skin is feeling painful and uncomfortable during the winter, visit a dermatologist for personalized care and product recommendations. You may have other skin conditions that require additional treatment and that are flaring up in the winter.
Even with the cold weather, winter can be an enjoyable and beautiful season. When you understand how your skin is affected in the winter, you can make changes to your skin care routine to stay comfortable and enjoy all the season has to offer.