Colder weather during the fall and winter can bring the onset of irritated, dry, and sensitized skin. Types of dermatitis, such as pruritus hiemalis, are seasonal and can be spurred by cold, dry air as well as irritated by other external factors. However, such cutaneous changes can be prevented and treated with appropriate dermatologic care and lifestyle adjustments during the upcoming colder seasons.
Seasonal Skin Changes
While dryness and irritation can affect all patients during the fall and winter months, individuals with sensitive skin types and those living in areas exposed to cold air or harsh winds are particularly at risk. Symptoms and cutaneous manifestations associated with seasonal shifts include rough, dry, and itchy skin; meanwhile, some patients may develop a more severe winter rash characterized by redness, swelling, itching, flaking, cracks in the skin, and even bleeding. These dermatologic signs may present in a single area of the body, often the extremities and face, or manifest all over the body.
Preventative interventions are especially important during the fall and winter months to ensure the maintenance of healthy, hydrated skin through frequent and thorough moisturizing, the avoidance of irritants, and using lukewarm water. Incorporating thicker skincare products, such as a thick moisturizer used frequently throughout the day and especially after bathing or hand washing, can be beneficial to protecting the skin barrier. Additionally, the use of humidifiers can help maintain a proper environment for healthy skin while at home. Although minimizing exposure to cold air is important to preventing seasonal skin changes, proper clothing such as gloves and scarves can help protect the skin while outside.
Avoiding Sensitive Skin Irritants
One critical element of the successful prevention of fall and winter skin conditions is the avoidance of the common irritants outlined below.
Harsh and Scented Products
In addition to cold, dry air exposure, the use of harsh chemicals can exacerbate skin irritation, particularly during the winter. As cold, dry air can weaken the skin, individuals who experience skin changes may benefit from choosing more mild skincare products, such as non-foaming cleansers and body washes. Natural, fragrance-free soaps made from glycerin, goat milk, shea butter, or olive oil can provide good alternatives to harsher products. Avoiding cosmetics and laundry detergents that contain alcohols, parabens, synthetic dyes, and fragrances can help improve skin health during the colder seasons.
Wool and synthetic fibers are commonly present in heavier clothing designed for colder weather and while they help keep the body warm, they can also irritate sensitive skin types. Instead, patients should incorporate silk, cotton, or hemp materials that are breathable and comfortable into their wardrobe and layer softer clothing underneath rough fabrics to protect the skin. Additionally, sensitive skin types should avoid using harsh detergents and fabric softeners opting instead for mild, unscented laundry products that are hypoallergenic.
In terms of exfoliation, skin prone to dryness and irritation should always proceed with caution. Heavy exfoliation techniques and products can significantly exacerbate irritation and adverse skin reactions. As such, it is best to limit this skin care practice to once per week or even less frequently. Instead, patients should substitute gentler exfoliating and moisturizing products that contain alpha hydroxy acids – to exfoliate while boosting skin thickness and firmness.
During the fall and winter months, individuals may be more likely to take hot showers and baths which can negatively impact skin health and further irritate sensitive skin. Experts recommend limiting face washing to once daily and showering to once daily during colder seasons. Bathing time should not exceed 10 minutes and the water temperature should remain lukewarm during face, hand, and body washing. It is also important to moisturize the skin immediately after bathing, while the skin is damp, to lock in moisture for optimal skin hydration.
Cold weather and other external factors associated with fall and winter seasons can have a detrimental effect on skin health. Patients with sensitive skin types are particularly prone to adverse changes, such as irritation, dryness, and flaking, during these months and are encouraged to actively incorporate preventative measures and avoid common skin irritants.
To learn more about important factors for consideration in dermatitis, psoriasis, and other dermatologic conditions, clinicians can access the LiVDerm CME Education Library which offers educational resources and online courses that feature expert content from our live events. LiVDerm’s online dermatology CME/CE activities delve deeper into the cutaneous sensitivities in specific populations – such as patients of color and pediatric patients – as well as valuable updates in common dermatologic conditions.