Many patients come into clinic this time of year wondering why their skin is only itchy in the winter or why their year-round itch gets so much worse in the colder months. In the vast majority of cases the answer is very simple….Dry winter air results in dry winter skin. Dry skin (xerosis) is naturally itchier than well-hydrated skin and in some cases can become inflamed and progress to eczema (also known as dermatitis).
The best management for itchy, dry skin depends upon restoring moisture to the skin, most importantly frequent moisturization with heavy creams or ointments. Opt for lukewarm rather than hot showers, use moisturizing cleansers, and always apply a moisturizer immediately afterwards. Using a humidifier at home can also help. If taking these measures at home is inadequate, then a visit to the dermatologist may be advisable. Common treatments for eczematous or itchy skin include steroid creams and other types of anti-itch creams.
In some cases, worsening dermatoses in the winter can also be due to the decrease in exposure to natural sunlight. Although extensive sun exposure and tanning are always discouraged due to skin cancer risk, a few minutes of sunlight each day for many people will help improve inflammatory skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis, and even acne. For patients with severe psoriasis or eczema refractory to medicated creams, in-office light treatments such as narrow band ultraviolet light (NBUVB) can be very effective. Patients with acne refractory to topical treatments may consider a light treatment called BLU-U which consists of blue light and has been shown to help eradicate P. acnes, a bacterium associated with acne.
It is common that skin conditions may be cyclical based on the weather outside and if over-the-counter treatments aren’t adequate to resolve your skin conditions a dermatologist may be able to help advise you on the best treatment plan to bring you relief.