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Health & Exercise Forum

Protect Your Skin this Winter

Feb 22, 2016

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumIn Northeastern Pennsylvania, winter is a fun-filled time for outdoor activities. Many people will be enjoying the outdoors hiking, snow shoe hiking, sledding, down-hill and cross-country skiing, snow-boarding, ice-skating and ice fishing. However, frigid, wind, snow, and sleet can play havoc on your skin. It is critical to be keenly aware of the time spent in the cold no matter what age and to recognize the importance of making skin protection part of your daily regimen throughout the entire year. Dry, red, flaking, itchy and scaly skin can make you crazy and uncomfortable. Furthermore, dry and cracked skin is an opportunity for a variety of bacterial, fungal and viral infections to enter your body.

10 Winter Skin Safety Tips For Outdoor Active Lifestyles

  1. Limit Use of Soap: Excessive use of soap and water in the cold winter months can strip away the skin’s natural oils. Use cleansing creams, gentle skin cleansers or bath lotions with moisturizers instead of harsh soap. Following the use of a good skin product, your shin should feel soft and smooth, not tight or dry. Non detergent fragrance free neutral-pH products are helpful and kind to winter skin. Experiment with several mild soaps such as CetaphilR, AveenoR, NeutrogenaR, BasisR or DoveR until you find the right one for you. Dr. Ted Stampien, MD, a local dermatologist in Clarks Summit, recommends that shower gels should be avoided because they contain alcohol.
  2. Soak Your Skin With Moisturizers: One proven method to prevent dry winter skin even when using regular soap is to moisturize your skin immediately after bathing to trap in water in the surface cells and then gently pat dry. For severe dryness, Dr. Stampien also recommends that you apply a second coating of moisturizing cream after you pad dry for further protection. He notes that creams are more moisturizing than lotions or gels. For extremely dry skin apply baby oil or almond or vitamin E oil to moist skin. Also, if your skin is so dry that it itches, apply 1% hydrocortisone to the area followed by a thick moisturizing cream. Try thicker creams such as Eucerin and Lubriderm and use cosmetics with moisturizers.
  3. Protect Your Skin From the Sun: Many people forget to protect their skin from the sun in the winter. However, when the winter sun is reflected off the snow and ice it can be very strong on an unprotected face, especially the cheeks and lips. While SPF 15 is considered adequate protection, dermatologists recommend a minimum of SPF 30 for most people. Choose a sunscreen with ingredients that block both UVB and UVA rays. Apply lotion liberally to all exposed skin before you go outside. Remember to include the lips, ears, and around eyes. Sunscreens are available in lotion, gel, spray, cream and sticks. Some are made fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, or especially for sensitive skin or children. Dr. Stampien states that patients with sensitive skin or eczema typically tolerate sunscreens that contain zinc and titanium oxide such as Blue LizardR, SolbarR and NeutrogenaR and that these patients should avoid sprays and gels as these products usually contain alcohol which can sting upon application. UVUV-blocking ski goggles or sunglasses with wraparound or large frames protect your eyelids and the sensitive skin around your eyes, common sites for skin cancer and sun-induced aging. Goggles and sunglasses also help reduce the risk of cataracts later in life. However, the sun is a good source of Vitamin D. Recent studies show that people may be developing Vitamin D deficiency due to over protection from the sun. For those concerned about overprotection from both UVA and UVB rays and becoming Vitamin D deficient, Dr. Stampien, suggests using Vitamin D supplements of 600-1000 IU. He feels that this provides adequate levels of Vitamin D to maintain healthy bones and muscles and may lower the risk of certain cancers.
  4. Do Not Soak in The Tub: The longer you soak in water, the more skin oils you lose. Therefore, in the winter it is wise to limit baths and showers to 5 minutes or less and use tepid water. Avoid very hot water. Also, only wash your face once or twice a day in the winter. Cool water wiping without soap is recommended if washing your face more than once per day.
  5. Try to Avoid a Hot Dry House: Keep your house temperature at 68-70 degrees and use a portable humidifier with 40-50% humidity levels in rooms that you spend a lot of time in such as the kitchen, TV and bedroom.
  6. Wear Skin-Friendly Fabrics: Natural fibers such as cotton and silk are skin-friendly. However, DryTech products like those made by Nike and UnderArmor wick sweat away and prevent chaffing when participating in outdoor activities.
  7. Proper Diet Can Protect Your Skin: As with all matters of health and wellness, a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, and nuts is essential. Additionally, certain foods such as avocados offer niacin, an inflammation-reducing agent which can improve complexion. Yellow and orange produce such as carrots, cantaloupes and apricots are also recommended. Keep in mind that alcohol and caffeine are diuretics that can cause the body and skin to lose fluid and nutrients. Stay hydrated.
  8. Live Healthy: Smoking causes vasoconstriction of the blood vessels which limits blood flow of oxygen and nutrients to the skin and other tissues. Daily exercise to improve circulation and adequate sleep to replenish and recharge you body, contribute to health and wellness.
  9. Avoid Dry Feet: Low humidity and cold temperatures can lead to skin breakdown and cause dry, scaly and uncomfortable feet. Coat your feet generously with lotion and sleep with cotton socks to maintain moisture. Remember, dry and cracked skin can allow bacterial, fungal and viral infections to enter the body.
  10. See A Dermatologist: Skin conditions are often a symptom of a much more serious underlying medical problem. For example, problems with the thyroid, liver, or kidney or cancer can be associated with skin ailments. If problems persist, seek medical attention.

SOURCES:; Mayo Clinic; WebMD

CONTRIBUTING AUTHORS: Ted Stampien, MD, is a dermatologist in Clarks Summit, PA
EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum” in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.