Winter and Dry Skin
Posted Fri, Feb 4, 2011

It’s cold out and my car is snowed in. The sun is shining and the snow is pure white, a sign of innocence and peace. If I don’t turn on my TV I can believe that this is the state of the world. Regardless it is a time to commune with nature and to free associate. When you are a dermatologist and you free associate you might wander to thoughts of the effects of cold temperatures and skin.
Studies on ultraviolet light reveal that with decreasing humidity or increasing temperatures or increasing wind the damaging effects of UV light are increased. Conversely in the winter the dehydrating effects of cold which produce damage we complain of as dry skin are worsened by colder temperatures, decreasing humidity, and higher wind.
Inside our homes the effects of low humidity persist as the air is heated and expands and the amount of moisture in the air must be spread over a larger area causing the relative humidity within our homes to decrease. Similarly, humidifiers attached to the furnace are subject to expanding air so the amount of moisture in the air also drops as it leaves the humidifier. Ultimately there are two options to humidify your home: install a hot water heater humidifier or (for most of us) purchase a 1 gallon cold water ultrasonic humidifier that can be run in the bedroom while you sleep.
The skin itself has interesting defenses against drying as it reconstructs fatty substances that the skin requires to preserve its water content. As the skin dries it manufactures more of these substances until a point is reached where it can no longer keep up and at that point the skin stops creating oily protection and agrees to accept its withered fate. To make its demise even worse, in the Western culture we have a love affair with soap that serves to dehydrate the skin more. Of course many use moisturizing soaps, an oxymoron if I ever heard one, and continue to dry out in the delusion that they have protected themselves. The ideal regimen may be to use shower gel formulations on the skin to protect its outer layers and then apply a moisturizing cream (as opposed to a lotion) while the skin is still damp. Combined with elevated levels of humidity this will minimize the drying effects of winter.
Now I leave for a brisk walk in the cold air. The sun is out, the snow still white, the air crisp. More time for free associating.

Edward Lack
Edward Lack MD is a board certified dermatologist and a board certified dermatologic cosmetic surgeon. He is President and Medical Director of MetropolitanMD, a multispecialty cosmetic surgery center in Chicago,which is unique in having a double board certified cosmetic dermatologic surgeon, a double board certified facial plastic surgeon, and a double board certified cosmetic plastic surgeon. Dr. Lack is also the Past President of The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery.

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