Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Protect your skin from the winter woes

12/29/2022 by Lynne Lillie, M.D.


Winter's harsh winds, cold temperatures and dry air can take a toll on your skin. But these tips can help protect and soothe your skin from three winter woes. 

Dry home heating

The heat in your home is as dry as the Sahara. Not only does your skin feel dry and itchy, you also may experience a dry throat and stuffy nose. The solution is adding humidity into the air with a freestanding humidifier or an in-furnace humidifier. 

Here's a guide for determining ideal indoor winter humidity: 

Outdoor Temperature is: Humidity Should Not Exceed:
20–39 degrees 40%
10–20 degrees 35%
Zero–9 degrees 30%
10 below Zero–1 below Zero 25%
20 below Zero–9 below Zero 20%

Keep in mind that if you can't add humidity back into the air, you can add humidity back to your eyes and sinus passages by using over-the-counter saline mists, sprays, gels and drops as directed. 

Hot showers and baths

While a hot shower on a chilly morning or a long soak in a hot tub after shoveling can feel good, your skin pays a big price. Hot water sucks the moisture form your body, and some bubble baths and bath salts can make it worse. 

To protect your skin, follow these tips:

  • Turn down the temperature. Use warm rather than hot water. 
  • Minimize the use of drying soaps, and wash only the "pits, cracks and folds" instead of lathering up your entire body. 
  • Follow the three-minute rule: Apply a cream- or oil-based moisturizer within three minutes of stepping out of the bath or shower. 

Moisturizers protect rather than repair your skin, so you want to apply ones that create a barrier to hold in moisture. Choose those that are cream rather than a lotion, or are oil- or petroleum-based, such as baby oil or a petroleum-based gel. For your face, look for creams that don't clog pores. 

Don't forget your hands and feet, which can crack, peel and bleed during the winter. Rub creams or petroleum-based gels into your heels, hands and fingers. 

Cold sunshine

Although winter sun doesn't warm much, it hasn't lost its power to burn exposed skin. Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 15 before going outside. Pay close attention to your face, hands, bare or bald spots on your scalp, and the tips and backs of your ears. And don't forget about sunscreen for your lips and sun protection for your eyes. For winter sports, give your face added protection with a coating of petroleum-based gel. 

If you have dry, itchy patches that may peel or bleed — even when applying moisturizer — and these patches persist for longer than two to four weeks, you should have them evaluated by a member of your care team to make sure there is not a more serious underlying skin condition requiring treatment. 

Lynne Lillie, M.D., is a family medicine physician with primary Care in Rochester and Kasson. She has been a practicing physician for over 20 years.