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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

As cold weather comes, preventative steps can help you avoid winter flakes

Nov. 14, 2018 Updated Wed., Nov. 14, 2018 at 9:36 p.m.

Using protection for your hands and moisturizer are ways to fight dry skin in the winter. (Shutterstock)
Using protection for your hands and moisturizer are ways to fight dry skin in the winter. (Shutterstock)

Cracks appear on the heels or near fingernails. Your hands, arms and legs feel drier, flakier.

Yeah, winter and skin don’t get along well.

In part, the fault lies in spending more time indoors around forced-air central heating. Another culprit is taking longer, hot showers when outdoor temperatures fall. But that creature comfort strips the body’s natural oils, say Spokane-area dermatology experts.

“In the colder weather, people do set themselves up for dry skin in part because they like to take longer and hotter showers,” said Dr. Phil Werschler of Spokane Dermatology Clinic.

“That sort of stimulates the drying effect and compounds the dryness that also occurs in the colder and drier weather.”

Dr. Drew Reese, with MultiCare Rockwood Dermatology Center, said people also spend a lot more time around heat sources.

“A lot of it, particularly in this area, is we have our heaters on and we have our wood stoves on, while we’re sitting in the house,” Reese said. “The air is being dried out by heat.”

And outdoors, wind and cold, dry weather can chap lips and skin.

There are preventative steps to avoid dry skin issues, with these tips from health care providers.

About that bathing

Consider the length, frequency and temperature in the shower along with the type of cleanser because many deodorant soaps contribute to stripping body oils.

Dermatologists suggest shorter showers, perhaps on alternate days, and the use of gentle cleaners. Area dermatologists say people often say they have good results with Cetaphil, Aveeno and Dove products. If you’re OK with it, also try lukewarm water, Werschler said.

“With your skin, its natural moisturizing factor is this cholesterol-derived fatty acid substance, and the longer and hotter shower strips more of that out of the skin,” he said.

“When you get in the shower at comfortable temperature, instead of turning it up incrementally, maybe try to turn it down a little bit, to where it’s not uncomfortable.”

Unless your job involves grease and grime, or being in mud, you don’t need daily use of soap over the entire body, Werschler said. He suggests applying mild soap only where needed, such as arm pits and the groin area.

“You don’t need to literally suds up the rest of the body,” he said. “Those other areas aren’t really dirty and the rinsing effect is sufficient.

“A bath is actually better for your skin. Bath water is not stripping away the oil from skin like a shower does, because running water is more effective at removing oil on skin.”

In the bathtub, he suggests using Neutrogena Rainbath or Aveeno Oatmeal Bath.


Use moisturizers to hydrate skin and use them often.

“My mantra is whatever you’ll put on, use it,” Reese said. “Sometimes, the greasier the better. With moisturizers, we tend to neglect that until it’s too late.”

After bathing, gently pat the skin partially dry with a towel, without rubbing. A bath oil or moisturizer then can be rubbed into the skin while the skin is still moist.

People who have more sensitive skin often avoid moisturizers that contain fragrances or chemicals.

“The most lightly textured moisturizers are typically what we recommend for men,” said Werschler, who added that many men aren’t good about moisturizing.

“In large part, it’s not cultural for a man typically to moisturize, and moisturizer tends to gunk up in body hair. I think most women will moisturize a lot of times because it’s part of daily regimen.”

Zelda Swain, a Valley Dermatology nurse practitioner, said people tell her that use of a serum product seems to penetrate the skin better as a moisturizing step.

For hands and feet, “I like urea,” she said. “It’s available over the counter, and it’s very effective for cracked heels.”

Moisturizers come in various thicknesses, Werschler said, from lotions and creams to thick ointments.

“The thicker and heavier ones you might use that for dried, cracked skin around the heels,” Werschler said. “They’re also messier and aren’t designed to be absorbed. They form more of a barrier.”

If you have cracked heels or dry fingertips, Werschler has another tip. Apply a thick moisturizer, then wear cotton ankle socks and cotton gloves to prevent rubbing the moisturizer off while resting. He often suggests to patients to buy thin cotton sewing gloves at places such as Joann Fabrics.

Wear protection

Use gloves indoors for cleaning and outdoor mittens or gloves as much as possible. That includes wearing gloves if you’re using tools outdoors or working in the yard.

“Simply wearing gloves is a good idea, even just a light pair of gloves will help to hold moisture in the skin,” Werschler said. “The skin is what we call an evaporative organ. … If you decrease evaporation, you’ll have less dryness.”


Werschler recommends using a humidifier in the bedroom, and a unit can usually be found at most department stores.

“You’re in the bedroom seven to 10 hours, so a small humidifier is not real expensive,” he said. “With the steam, that raises the relative humidity in your bedroom, so you close the door and that kind of traps the humidity. Your skin will dry out less. It’s a simple, easy fix.”

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