Dry, Itchy, Winter Skin—Your 2015 Hydration Guide

I would almost not believe it’s halfway through January…unless my skin did not remind me daily. Anyone else now in the the throws of tight crawl-out-of-your-skin-itch­ies? Here are some ABC’s for winter hydra­tion!

Skin_dermal layers

A. Aqua (Hydrate)

If you are find­ing water alone very astrin­gent (as city-dwell­ers can with hard water also known as cal­ci­fied, more chlor­in­ated water), you can put a water fil­ter on your shower head or bathtub tap to soften the water. Not only redu­cing your expos­ure to volat­ile organ­ic com­pounds and chlor­ine, your skin may feel less tight imme­di­ately out of the water.

For those of you whom have eczema and psori­as­is and have quite a bit of raw, cut skin, a sea salt bath can also be an excel­lent tool to heal your skin. Sea salt (sodi­um chlor­ide) is not the same as epsom salt (mag­nesi­um sulfate) so please choose the bag with care, as epsom salt can sting sens­it­ive and open skin. I recom­mend 2 – 3 cups of sea salt in a warm bath. You know you have enough salt when you stick your fin­ger in to test the tem­per­at­ure and lick it; if it’s salty, it’s ready. Soak for 15 minutes, and if the sting­ing is uncom­fort­able, give a light rinse for 20 seconds when you are fin­ished soak­ing.

B. Bathing Right

Cleaning the body in the winter requires dif­fer­ent atten­tion than in the sum­mer months. For those of you with really dry skin; severe eczema or psori­as­is cov­er­ing your body, per­haps spot-wash­ing (or tops and tails as it used be called for face, under­arms, groin, and bum) would be best with areas that are more prone to bac­teria and odour. For example, if your fore­arms are very dry and so are the back of your knees, scrub­bing with soap would hurt like the dick­ens! Perhaps just allow­ing those areas to be in the shower or bath with a very gentle cleanser would be all that is required, and rather than scrub­bing with a cloth, light applic­a­tion of the cleanser with the hands may be a bet­ter choice.

Soaps can be very dry­ing. I have a list of cleansers are not soaps per se at the end of this post that gently cleanse while hydrat­ing the sur­face of the skin. I am not affil­i­ated in any way with the com­pan­ies that pro­duce the products! You will notice that there is an equal com­bin­a­tion of nat­ur­al and non-nat­ur­al body products; whatever works that is fairly non-tox­ic is okay by me. I always check with the Environmental Working Group if I’m unsure, or Health Canada.

C. Cover

Protect the outside

Skin mois­tur­izers are so plen­ti­ful that this dis­cus­sion could go on for pages. Are you doing the right things for your skin? Check out the list of remind­ers below:

  1. Apply mois­tur­izers right after cleans­ing

    Damp skin is the ideal sur­face for mois­tur­izer applic­a­tion. Water that is on the skin sur­face will be trapped, seal­ing it and giv­ing great­er abil­ity of the mois­tur­izer to keep your skin’s own mois­ture in through­out the day. This also means wet­ting your skin to reapply mois­tur­izers through­out the day is use­ful, either by using a spring water spray or just plain ol’ (out of the tap) l’eau.

  2. Are you using an oil, a lotion, or a cream?

    There is a big dif­fer­ence between oil, lotion, and cream for hydra­tion. Oils typ­ic­ally coat the skin sur­face and do seal in water well. They are typ­ic­ally easi­er to apply after a shower or bath. Coconut oil has been get­ting quite a bit of atten­tion for this pur­pose, even with atop­ic dermatit­is and eczema (see the ref­er­ences below if you are inter­ested). The only prob­lem I see fre­quently with only-oil applic­a­tions is that our skin bar­ri­er is both oil (fat) and water, and we often need a mois­tur­izer that can sup­ply both. In addi­tion, the oil tends to rub off onto sur­faces, on cloth­ing, and needs to be reapplied fre­quently, which few people tend to do as apply­ing coconut oil through­out the day is a nuis­ance.
    I nor­mally recom­mend if oil is used (and tend to sup­port the use of coconut oil if I recom­mend oil at all as there is simply more research to sup­port its bene­fit com­pared with oth­er oils) that an addi­tion­al mois­tur­izer or emol­li­ent be applied on top of the oil lay­er.

    So, which lotion or cream is bet­ter to use? Typically a lotion is con­sidered light­er com­pared with a cream, which is more often thick­er or heav­ier (both in sen­sa­tion, and how it wraps over the skin). If your skin is very dry, creams are typ­ic­ally the way to go. Please see a list below that have I good suc­cess using (both per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally with my prac­tice). Please note that which are better/​worse tends to be very sub­ject­ive. I really do wish we could be that spe­cif­ic. For those of you who are sick and tired of try­ing new mois­tur­izers and the expense that comes with that, I would ask for samples as much as pos­sible so you can patch-test them on sec­tions of your skin. You could even make a game out of it; set a timer to see how long it lasts keep­ing your skin hydrated or how often it needed to be reapplied!

  3. Are you using your mois­tur­izer as a heal­ing agent?

    For those of you with psori­as­is or eczema, keep­ing the skin hydrated is kind of like brush­ing your teeth — essen­tial to the health of your skin, but there are oth­er things that must be done in addi­tion for cuts, sores, or prob­lem areas. I have noticed that inflamed skin with eczema and psori­as­is that there needs to be a reapplic­a­tion of heal­ing lotions or creams in addi­tion to the daily mois­tur­izer when required. This may be a cortisone pre­scribed by your MD or oth­er immun­osup­press­ive agents (used very very spar­ingly, and only when abso­lutely neces­sary) altern­ated with heal­ing creams. I tend to nav­ig­ate to chick­weed or calen­dula cream in my prac­tice to heal cuts on top of a daily mois­tur­izer.

    **Note I am not opposed to the use of immun­osup­press­ants for the skin sur­face, but we know with much research that inflam­ma­tion man­age­ment with these agents should be used in mod­er­a­tion to avoid per­man­ent skin dam­age or scar­ring**

  4. Could you add mois­ture to your envir­on­ment?

    A room humid­i­fi­er can be a fairly inex­pens­ive way to make the air in your envir­on­ment moist. The only caveat here is to make sure to clean your humid­i­fi­er reg­u­larly; humid­i­fi­ers typ­ic­ally are incub­at­ors for mould growth which is not good for itchy skin (and oth­er health dis­orders)!

Protect the inside

This means…

  • Drinking water (at least 1.5 L/​day)
  • Reducing caf­fein­ated bever­ages (includ­ing caf­fein­ated tea) to 1 – 2 cups maximum/​day
  • Taking a really good qual­ity omega-3 oil every day (min­im­um 3:1 ratio for EPA>DHA), as it takes 6 weeks to get prop­erly integ­rated into your skin cells, and if you for­get to take it, it will take that much longer to get your skin hydrated!
  • Reducing your syn­thet­ic sug­ar, as sug­ar increases inflam­ma­tion, and your skin is already inflamed. Inflamed skin loses water more rap­idly as is gen­er­ally more dehyd­rated
  • Reduce your alco­hol con­sump­tion, and try to keep it to week­ends if you have a love affair with wine :)

Of course, this is just one por­tion of over­all skin health!

Skin Cleaners for Dry, Sensitive Skin

Skin Moisturizers for Dry, Sensitive Skin

I hope this helps! Of course, these are not the only ways to sup­port winter dry and itchy skin. Come argue with me in per­son this Saturday at Goodness Me!

Coconut oil medical references

  1. Loden M. Role of top­ic­al emol­li­ents and mois­tur­izers in the treat­ment of dry skin bar­ri­er dis­orders. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003; 4(11): 771 – 88.
  2. Evangelista MT, Abad-Casintahan F, Lopez-Villafuerte L. The effect of top­ic­al vir­gin coconut oil on SCORAD index, transepi­derm­al water loss, and skin capa­cit­ance in mild to mod­er­ate pedi­at­ric atop­ic dermatit­is: a ran­dom­ized, double-blind, clin­ic­al tri­al. Int J Dermatol. 2014 Jan;53(1):100 – 8. doi: 10.1111/ijd.12339. Epub 2013 Dec 10.
  3. Agero AL, Verallo-Rowell VM. A ran­dom­ized double-blind con­trolled tri­al com­par­ing extra vir­gin coconut oil with min­er­al oil as a mois­tur­izer for mild to mod­er­ate xer­os­is. Dermatitis. 2004 Sep;15(3):109 – 16.

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