Welcome to winter, when the cold weather outside and the central heat indoors seem to be in a conspiracy to strip your skin of moisturizing oils.
Are you washing your hands a lot? That’s a good way to prevent the spread of cold and flu germs, but it also can make your skin even more dry.
So what is a person with sensitive skin to do?
“I use Curél,” said Doris Ferry, 68, who lives at North Penn Manor in Wilkes-Barre. “It helps.”
“I’m trying LUSH,” administrator Judy Lee said, naming another skin cream.
“When my hands itch, I try not to scratch,” said Marge Paraventi, 75, another resident.
Certainly, residents and staff at a personal-care facility might be especially challenged by dry winter skin because the aging process tends to have a drying effect, and the staff, while younger, would be frequently washing their hands.
But people from all walks of life can feel the pain, said Monica Mathis, a dermatology physician assistant from the Geisinger Health Care System who agreed to share some tips.
“Some people are more sensitive,” Mathis said in a telephone interview. “Heredity could play a role, people who work outdoors are more exposed to the elements, and people who have their hands in water a lot can be prone to problems.”
Mathis recommends a “soak-and-smear” strategy, during which a person soaks his or her hands in plain lukewarm — not hot, no soap — water for 10 minutes, then lightly pats the hands dry and slathers them with a moisturizing ointment or cream and covers them with white cotton gloves.
Is your favorite store sold out of cotton gloves this season?
“Use white cotton socks,” Mathis said.
“Ideally, you should apply moisturizer before you even notice your skin is dry,” the physician assistant said, suggesting starting in the fall instead of waiting for winter. And, it’s a good idea to stash containers of a moisturizer that works for you in different rooms or in your car or at work so you can re-apply it five or six times a day.
The greasier a product, the better, Mathis said, suggesting ointments and creams as better solutions than lotions. The lotions are more likely to include alcohol, which itself has a drying effect.
“We love Curél,” she said, suggesting Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream, Gold Bond Ointment and Aquaphor Healing Ointment as other top choices.
Using lukewarm water rather than hot and using a mild soap such as Ivory or Dove should be helpful, she said. Adding a humidifier to your home also may ease your symptoms.
Also, she said, it is important to avoid scratching because that can open the skin and lead to infection. It also tends to increase the itching sensation.
If your hands are very chapped, you could try an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. But if it doesn’t improve your skin in a month, she said, you should consult a physician.