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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