Monthly Article: Cold Weather Alert

January 1, 2008

Thus far, we have enjoyed uncharacteristically mild weather this winter.  Given that all good things must eventually come to an end, the following are tips on how to ensure that you take good care of your skin this winter season.  This information will help you avoid not only common practices that can damage and dry your skin but also those that leave you at risk for colds and other viral infections.

Guard Against Dry Skin and Lips

Even though the bitter weather has yet to descend upon us, the moisture in the air is very low, which can lead to dry skin and lips.  As temperatures drop, this common winter ailment only worsens, potentially causing great discomfort, particularly for those with eczema and other skin conditions.  The best way to combat dry skin is to proactively protect it by taking greater care to keep skin moisturized and to avoid practices that exacerbate it.

These precautions include:

  • Limiting baths or showers to 4-5 minutes, using lukewarm water. It is important to turn the water temperature down as far as you can stand it and not linger in the water.
  • Use a non-drying, mild soap (sparingly) for cleansing. The deodorant soap that you used all summer will more than likely cause dry skin in the winter months.  The same ingredients that make these cleansers great for combating sweat and odors, are harsh on the skin particularly in the winter.  Even mild soaps can have drying effects, so limit soap use to areas where you are prone to perspire or where dirt readily accumulates (face, hands, feet, underarms and groin area).
  • Moisturize daily. Moisturizing the skin each day is essential. During the winter it is appropriate to use a rich lotion or cream that will attract and trap much- needed moisture in your skin. Look for lotions that contain humectants (glycerin, hyaluronic acid and urea). When you come out of the shower or bath, immediately apply the moisturizer to your damp skin. This will help to seal the moisture in and provide a protective barrier from the harsh winter environment.
  • Put moisture into the air. Our home and office heating systems blow dry air into our surroundings. This dry air then robs our skin of moisture. Use a humidifier in your bedroom, living room or office to add moisture. For a low cost alternative, distribute several plants throughout your home and office. After the plant is watered, the water will travel up the stem, into the leaves and diffuse out into the room (thus adding moisture to the air). Another inexpensive alternative is to distribute pans of water throughout the room or on top of radiators.
  • Break the lip-licking cycle. Lips become dry and chapped during the winter. Although it is almost a natural response to lick your lips when they are dry, it is the worst thing to do. After you have licked your lips, the moisture quickly evaporates, leaving them even drier than before.  In addition, the digestive enzymes and bacteria in saliva can damage the lips, leaving them even more vulnerable to the cold, dry winter air. To prevent and repair chapping, use a lip balm to seal in moisture and form a protective barrier. Re-apply it frequently throughout the day.
  • Liberally use lipstick. Opaque lipsticks offer great protection against cold, sun and wind and they help to prevent chapping. These brightly colored lipsticks are fun to wear during the dreary months of winter. The key is to reapply lipstick whenever it wears off. One note of caution: avoid long-lasting or all-day lipstick varieties. The chemical that is used in these versions can have a drying effect on the lips.
  • Avoid wool clothing next to your skin. Wool often irritates skin, making it itchy in the winter, so avoid letting wool come into close contact with your skin. Instead, wear cotton camisoles, undershirts or long underwear underneath any wool clothing.  (Note that wool can also pull on the hair and cause breakage.  You should always wear a silk scarf around the collar of your coat to protect your hair and neck from coming into contact with the wool.)
  • Hydrate. Keep the body well hydrated by drinking ample amounts of water each day. Women in particular forget that they can become dehydrated in the winter as well as in the summer.

Protect Against Viral Infections

The winter weather is especially unkind to the skin on our hands.  We know that hand washing is key to avoiding the germs that cause colds and other viral infections. Eighty-percent of all infections are spread through direct or indirect contact with objects such as elevator buttons, railings, subway polls, faucets, doorknobs, or the hands of people who have just sneezed into their hands or touched their runny noses.  These germs are then transmitted into our systems when we in turn touch our own nose, eyes or mouth.  Handwashing is the single best way to minimize these risks.  However, it is important to remember that excessive handwashing, especially with harsh soaps or antibacterial hand sanitizers, can be harmful to our skin and cause severe drying.  Cracks or breaks resulting from this dryness can leave us exposed to viral infections.

Following are some key handwashing tips that will help minimize the transmission of infections while also protecting the skin:

  • Moisturize hands liberally after handwashing.  This will eliminate excessive dryness.  Thick moisturizers and humectants provide the best relief and protection.
  • In addition to washing your hands, also remember to scrub wrists, between fingers and underneath fingernails.  Wash thoroughly and long enough to kill germs.  (This can be accomplished by washing long enough to get through two singings of the alphabet or the “Happy Birthday” song.)
  • Do not touch the sink faucet, paper towel dispenser, or doorknob with your clean hands.
  • Be careful with antibacterial soaps.  Many of the agents used in these products (triclosan and quateranary ammonium) kill many common bacteria, but unfortunately leave the most difficult and resistant bacteria behind.  Also, in water, triclosan combined with chlorine and sunlight can produce chloroform, which is suspected to be a carcinogen.  These products are also harsher than other soaps and can cause excessive drying.
  • Only use hand sanitizers when there is no soap and water available.  These products are 60% alcohol and can be very drying to the skin.  However, they are effective in killing bacteria.
  • Protect cracked skin by: filling in the cracks with petroleum, using a clear dressing or a piece of tape to cover cracks, or sealing cracks with a skin-bonding adhesive.
  • Minimize your hands’ exposure to the elements.  Wear gloves in cold weather, wear lined rubber gloves while working in wet substances, use cotton gloves when performing other housekeeping duties.
  • Be a good citizen yourself.  When you have a cold or virus, be sure to sneeze into your arm (bend the arm at your elbow and sneeze into the fold) instead of your hands.  Wash your hands frequently to avoid transmitting your germs to others. Be considerate of family and officemates by wiping down equipment you touch (telephone receiver, fax machine, computer keyboards, light switches) after each use with antibacterial wipes or soapy water.

Special Care for Eczema Skin

In addition to the abovementioned dry skin precautions, those with mild, acute and chronic eczema conditions should additionally adhere to the following:

  • Launder clothes with mild detergents. Clothes should be double rinsed to ensure the removal of detergent residue.  Never use fabric softeners.
  • Avoid hard water, salt water and chlorinated water
  • For bathing, also use a mild cleanser that does not contain fragrance
  • Do not use bubble bath or fragranced body wash
  • Apply moisturizer to damp skin within three minutes of showering to lock in moisture
  • Use cool water or milk compresses to soothe itchy skin. Don’t scratch!
  • Exercise in cool well ventilated areas
  • Be sure to consistently apply a non-steroid topical cream to maintain skin between eczema flare-ups and to treat the flares of eczema. These creams are applied twice daily.  Follow the instructions given by your physician or pharmacist when applying these medications. There have been some impressive advancements in the development of non-steroid creams with minimal or no side effects, such as MimyX™ (Stiefel, Inc.) which is indicated to manage and relieve the burning and itching experienced with various types of dermatoses, including atopic dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis and radiation dermatitis. MimyX™ cream helps to relieve dry, waxy skin by maintaining a moist wound & skin environment, which is beneficial to the healing process..

Sponsored by Stiefel, Inc.Stiefel


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