Cold weather is just as challenging to your skin as warm weather seasons. This time of the year, you may notice dryness and flaking, and in some cases, cracking of the skin in exposed areas such as …
Cold weather is just as challenging to your skin as warm weather seasons. This time of the year, you may notice dryness and flaking, and in some cases, cracking of the skin in exposed areas such as around your mouth and fingers. Exposure to extreme cold temperatures also places you at risk of developing skin damage due to frostnip or frostbite. Here are some ways to protect your skin during these blustry winter months.
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize
Look for oil-based moisturizers, rather than water-based this winter. The oil will create a protective layer on the skin that retains more moisture than a cream or lotion. If your skin is prone to developing blackheads, look for “non-clogging” oils in a base such as avocado oil, mineral oil, primrose oil, or almond oil.
Sunscreens are just as important in the winter as they are in the summer, due to snow glare. Apply a sunscreen that contains both ultraviolet UVA and UVB protection with a SPF of at least 15 to your face and your hands—if they’re exposed—about 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply frequently if you stay outside a long time.
Protect your weathered hands
The skin on your hands is thinner than on most parts of the body and has fewer oil glands. This can lead to itchiness, redness and cracking associated with cold weather. Wear gloves when outside. Apply a moisturizer to your hands frequently throughout the day, especially after immersion in water.
Avoid wet gloves and socks
Wet socks and gloves will irritate your skin and cause itching, cracking, sores, or even a flare-up of eczema.
Invest in humidifiers
Central heating systems (as well as space heaters) blast hot dry air throughout our homes and offices. Humidifiers get more moisture in the air, which helps prevent your skin from drying out. Place small humidifiers throughout your home to increase the moisture in the air.
Grease up your feet
You may notice that the soles of your feet become dry and cracked during the winter. For this part of the body, you need to use lotions and ointments that contain petroleum jelly or glycerin. You should also exfoliate your soles periodically with an emery board prior to applying the moisturizer for better absorption.
Avoid hot baths
During the cold weather season, avoid super-hot baths. Instead, use warm water and make your bath or shower shorter. Oatmeal or baking soda in the bath water can help decrease itching. Apply moisturizer immediately after bathing.
If none of the above helps, you should consult with your family doctor or a dermatologist for suggestions on other medications and ointments.
Beware frostnip and frostbite
At or below 32 degrees, blood vessels in the skin constrict, and blood supply is shunted away from the extremities. This lack of blood leads to the eventual freezing and death of skin tissue in the exposed areas. There are several stages of frostbite.
Frostnip is a superficial cooling of tissues without cell damage and affects only the surface skin layer, which becomes frozen. There is itching and pain, and then the skin develops white, red, or yellow patches and becomes numb. Usually there is no permanent damage.
Second degree frostbite develops when the skin freezes and hardens, but the deep tissues are not affected and remain soft and normal. Blisters can develop one to two days after becoming frozen.
Third and fourth degree frostbite occurs when the muscles, tendons, blood vessels and nerves all freeze.
Risk factors for frostbite include using beta-blockers or having conditions such as diabetes and neuropathy. Other contributing factors include inadequate or wet clothes, wind chill and poor blood circulation. Avoid tight clothing or boots, cramped positions, fatigue, smoking and alcohol use.
During the cold weather months, it is important to plan ahead if you are going to be outside for an extended period of time. Have emergency supplies in the car that include blankets, water, flashlight, batteries, snacks, gloves, boots and a first-aid kit in case you get stranded during a storm.
You can treat mild frostbite (frostnip) with first aid. All other frostbite requires medical attention. First-aid steps for frostbite are as follows*:
1. Check for hypothermia. Get emergency medical help if you suspect hypothermia. Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include intense shivering, drowsiness/confusion and muscle weakness, dizziness and nausea.
2. Protect your skin from further damage. Protect your face, nose or ears by covering the area with dry, gloved hands. Don’t rub the affected area, and don’t walk on frostbitten feet or toes if possible.
3. Get out of the cold. Once you’re indoors, remove wet clothes and wrap up in a warm blanket. Take care to not break any blisters.
4. Gently rewarm frostbitten areas. Soak the frostbitten areas in warm water—99 to 104 degrees. If a thermometer isn’t available, the water should feel very warm—not hot. Rewarming takes about 30 minutes.
5. Don’t rewarm frostbitten skin with direct heat, such as a stove, heat lamp, fireplace, or heating pad.
6. Drink warm liquids such as tea, coffee, or soup. Don’t drink alcohol.
7. If you’re in pain, consider an over-the-counter pain reliever.
8. If the skin turns red and you feel tingling and burning as it warms, normal blood flow is returning. Seek emergency help if numbness or pain persists during warming, or if you develop blisters.
*Information provided by the Mayo Clinic.