Surviving the Winter Skin Blues

By Melinda Riter, M.D., Ph.D.
Board-Certified Dermatologist

Winter in Central Oregon brings us cold temperatures, wind, and a decrease in humidity. When the weather turns colder, we also turn the heat up, lowering the humidity inside our homes. These changes in the weather and the conditions around us make it difficult for your skin to retain moisture. Even those who don’t suffer from dry skin the rest of the year can feel the difference in the season.

Keeping Your Skin Healthy

Why is it so important to keep our skin healthy? The skin is actually the largest organ we have, performing some essential tasks for our body. Our skin protects us from the environment (weather, bacteria, viruses, and UV rays), regulates our temperature, produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun (which is essential for other body functions), and it provides us with sensation so we can protect ourselves from things that can hurt us. The outer layer of the skin is called the epidermis. The thin outer layer is the stratum corneum, our skin barrier.

A healthy skin barrier is like a strong brick wall. The skin cells (bricks) are glued together by oils and proteins that make up the ‘mortar.’ Some of the reasons our skin barrier starts seeing cracks include the following:

  • Soap washes away the glue – leaving holes in your brick wall
  • A broken skin barrier allows water from inside your body to evaporate, causing dryness
  • Lower humidity in winter means your skin’s moisture evaporates faster
  • Hot water acts like a strong soap and further depletes the skin barrier of protective oil
  • Oil content in the skin decreases with age

5 Ways to Keep Those Dry Skin Blues Away

As the temperatures drop, symptoms you may notice on your skin are flaky, dry, rough patches, cracks in the skin, stinging, and itching. It’s essential to rehydrate the skin and prevent further water loss. In addition to dry, itchy skin needing moisture, it requires extra care. These are some recommendations for your skin’s winter survival:

  1. Moisturize – This is the number one thing you must do this time of year. It is important for your entire body. Use thicker moisturizers for your face and creams for the rest of your body, and reapply throughout the day. Lotions are mostly water and will evaporate without protecting your skin. Avoid products that are dispensed with a pump. Instead, upgrade to using a CREAM or OINTMENT to add protective elements back to your skin. These are dispensed from jars or tubes. Look for moisturizers with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, or urea. Here are some suggestions for products to use:
  • Vaseline® Healing Jelly Original (white plain petrolatum ointment)
  • Aquaphor Healing Ointment®
  • CeraVe® Moisturizing Cream
  • Cetaphil® Moisturizing Cream
  • Epionce® Medical Barrier Cream
  • Vanicream™ Moisturizing Cream
  • Eucerin® Roughness Relief Cream (urea enriched)
  1. Use Sunscreen – Just because it’s winter does not mean you should forget the sunscreen. Whether cloudy or sunny, you still need to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. Make sure the sunscreen covers both UVA and UVB rays, has an SPF of 30 or higher, and is something you know you will use. If you are going to be outside, make sure you reapply.
  2. Try a humidifier – Humidifiers help replace moisture in your home’s air. This will improve dry, itchy skin and help it retain that hydration. Humidifiers also help with dry, irritated sinuses. Just make sure you maintain them well since they can also breed bacteria and mold if not used properly. Mayo Clinic has some great tips on how to keep your humidifier clean.
  3. Avoid long, hot showers – Hot showers are so tempting when you’re already cold, but changing your bathing habits can save your skin barrier. Warm water (instead of hot) will keep your skin healthier by not stripping those essential skin oils. Take the time to moisturize your body after getting out of the shower while your skin is still moist. This will help “lock” that moisture in. Here are some other bathing tips:
  • Use soap ONLY in armpits and groin most days, rather than on your entire body.
  • Exfoliating during the winter is generally not recommended by Dermatologists.
  • In the bathtub: use cleanser and shampoo at the end of your soak time to avoid prolonged contact with your skin.
  • Body washes are very effective soaps – too effective! Choose a cleanser instead.
  1. Soap – As mentioned above, choose a cleanser rather than a soap or body wash. Cleansers remove dirt and bacteria without damaging the skin barrier. In addition, cleansers are friendly to protective oils and proteins in your skin barrier. When bathing, use ONLY in your armpits and groin most days rather than on your entire body. Some recommendations for cleansers:
  • CeraVe® Hydrating Facial Cleanser or Foaming Facial Cleanser and Hydrating Cleanser Bar
  • Cetaphil® Gentle Skin Cleanser and Gentle Cleansing Bar
  • Epionce® Milky Lotion Cleanser
  • Dove® Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar
  • Olay Sensitive Beauty Bar
  • Bioderma Atoderm Shower Oil

Skin Conditions That can Flare up in the Winter

For certain people that suffer from chronic skin conditions, cold weather can worsen their symptoms. These conditions include psoriasis, eczema, hand dermatitis, and seborrheic dermatitis. For these skin conditions, it is vital that you check in with your Dermatology Provider to make sure you have a plan in place for the winter. Since each individual may have different triggers, severity of symptoms, etc., you want a program tailored for you. At Bend Dermatology Clinic, we have various treatments that, alone or in combination, can help ease those symptoms. Treatment can include topical steroid creams, injections, non-steroid creams, and light therapy (Narrowband UVB).

You will also want to avoid allergens and irritants that worsen your condition. Some things to avoid:

  • Wool fabric and rough textiles
  • Toners and alcohol-based astringents
  • Solvents and cleaning products
  • Fragrances
  • Essential oils (especially citrus– these react with the sun!)
  • Topical antibiotics: bacitracin, neomycin, polymyxin B
  • Chemical sunscreens (any sunscreen that is not zinc oxide or titanium dioxide)

At Bend Dermatology Clinic, our Providers, including our Board-Certified Dermatologists, Certified Physician Assistants, Registered Nurses, and Certified Advanced Aestheticians, are highly qualified and motivated to help with any skin condition. Please book an appointment with us at one of our two East Bend locations, West Bend, Klamath Falls, Prineville, or Redmond locations.


Melinda Riter,M.D., Ph.D. – Dr. Riter is a Board-Certified Dermatologist specializing in Medical Dermatology and Skin Cancer Treatment. One of her passions is caring for rural populations and improving health care delivery. In addition, Dr. Riter enjoys discussing camping gear, RVs, e-bikes, trucks, good books, and pets.