Itchy Cracked Skin? Don’t Suffer. Here are 4 Simple Tips to Control Winter Itch

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
December 18, 2021
Controlling Winter Itch

With winter in full swing, you probably find yourself reaching for Chapstick® and body lotion more often. Winter’s dry, cold weather draws moisture away from the skin and can lead to winter itch -- a type of dermatitis that causes itchy, scaly, cracked, possibly even bleeding skin. Winter itch can occur at any age but we tend to be more prone to it as we age, as our skin tends to be thinner and dryer. These symptoms can be more serious if you have conditions like eczema or psoriasis.

“Winter itch is common and easily treatable as long as it’s truly winter itch,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “Since it’s related to colder temperatures, it’s triggered in late fall and clears in the spring. Wearing wool or flannel can exacerbate symptoms and it appears as dry, scaly skin – not a rash.” 

Treating Winter Itch

Controlling winter itch is all about adding moisture to your skin and environment. Here are a few easy tips to try.

  • Place a humidifier in areas of your home where you spend a lot of time, such as a bedroom. Humidifiers add moisture, helping ease a host of symptoms related to winter itch, such as dry skin and cracked lips, as well as irritated eyes, nose bleeds, dry coughs, allergies, sore throats and sinus headaches.
  • Take brief, lukewarm showers. Water, particularly hot water can strip your skin of oils, drying it out even more. Keep your baths and showers brief, using lukewarm water. The soap you use also is important. Look for soaps that use hydrating ingredients such as plant oils, glycerin, lanolin and/or hyaluronic acid. Avoid soaps with drying ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate, fragrances and alcohol. 
  • Clean and exfoliate skin and then use moisturizer. Chances are, you regularly clean your skin. But you might skip exfoliating and moisturizing. Exfoliating with a gentle skin scrub sloughs off dead cells, allowing for better absorption of a moisturizer. Look for moisturizers with lipids or emollients in it. Oil-based ingredients such as petroleum (as in Vaseline) might work well but shouldn’t be used if you’re prone to break outs. Witch hazel and rubbing alcohol -- known for easing itching and skin irritation – promote dryness and shouldn’t be used. Don’t forget about lip balm.
  • Protect skin from the elements. When outdoors, cover up with coats, scarves, hats and gloves to protect your skin from wind and low temperatures. Wear sunscreen, regardless of the season to prevent sun damage. Lastly, avoid tanning beds.

“If you’re symptoms don’t match typical winter itch or respond to these tips, talk to your primary care physician or dermatologist.”

Don’t have a physician? Consider working with MDVIP. MDVIP-affiliated physicians have the time and resources to help you focus on your health. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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