The winter is approaching folks and along with fending off the winter lurgies, the battle against dry and itchy skin begins for many of us. Your top layer of skin consists of dead cells embedded in a mixture of natural oils (lipids) that hold a certain amount of water, which helps keep the skin soft, pliable and smooth. During the winter, the temperature drops, air is less humid and the wind whips up. All this strips our skin of its natural oils and causes a loss of moisture which can lead to itchy, inflamed, dry and irritated skin. This can be particularly problematic to people suffering from conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Eczema causes inflammation of the skin and makes it red and itchy while Psoriasis causes red plaques on the skin which are covered in silvery scales. It usually starts in early adulthood and commonly affects knees, elbows, lower back and scalp and can cause itchy skin.
Not wishing to be a killjoy, but it is the everyday winter comforts that unfortunately make our dry skin conditions worse.
• Heating - Fan heaters and central heating can reduce humidity in the atmosphere and dry the skin. Use a humidifier in rooms to increase the humidity of the atmosphere.
• Woollen Clothing - We usually get woolly jumpers for Christmas, but they be an irritant and itchy. So if you're already mulling over what to ask for in your bumper Christmas list, consider looser fitting, breathable fabrics, such as cotton. This will reduce chafing and irritation.
• Long baths and showers - As nice as a hot soak feels in cold temperatures, they can make dry skin worse.
• Soaps and bubble baths - Bubbles and aromas are very pleasant and relaxing indeed but hot soapy water strips away the natural oils from the skin. When having baths and showers, use warm water instead of hot, use simple soaps or those with moisturiser in, and pat yourself dry rather than rubbing.
• Alcohol and caffeine - Next time you're trying to survive a day in the office or planning your big night out, remember these are diuretics and cause dehydration, depleting water and causing dry skin. Enjoy in moderation by all means and drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.
• Smoking - Smoking causes various health problems and can dry out your skin. Given that you have to go outside to smoke in most places, maybe giving up before this winter could be a plan?
• Fragrances and preservatives - They can cause irritations to the skin, particularly for those of us with sensitive skin or existing conditions.
• Stress - Emotional stress can bring on bouts of psoriasis and occasionally eczema. Also, in times of stress the skin's ability to retain water is reduced.
Keeping your skin moisturised is vital, especially if you've got eczema or psoriasis, and your local pharmacist should be able to help you. There are lots of ointments, creams and oils which you can pop into your bath.
The only other thing is to change the weather. For those of us who are lucky enough to jet away for a week or two to a sunny climate with more humidity - do it - it will help prevent the effects of winter. Just make sure you don't get sunburnt.
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