Dry skin, dermatitis and the best ways to survive the cooler months


Dry cold air, low humidity, wind, indoor heating, reduced sunlight exposure, hot showers and increased risk of illness in Winter dehydrate the skin and create the perfect storm that can affect our skin health. Our skin can feel dry and itchy, a condition known as "winter itch". Scratching irritated skin can cause it to become inflamed and may develop into dermatitis or eczema. The skin can look red with a rash, and sometimes, blisters. Over time the skin builds up and thickens.

There are several ways to minimise dry skin and dermatitis, the key is to:

  1. Find your individual triggers and avoid them
  2. Improve the general condition of your skin and
  3. Specifically treat areas if they become inflamed.

Finding triggers

Avoiding the things that irritate your skin is ideal, but it can be tricky to find out what those triggers are. Keeping a symptom diary and including foods and other possible irritants may uncover some clues. Common triggers include food allergies, stress, weather changes and irritants such as woollen clothing, perfumes and chemicals. Excessive contact with water and irritation from soaps and detergents, skin infections, overheating and genetic disposition can also be factors.

Common food allergies include dairy, soy, beef, chicken, nuts, oranges, strawberries, wheat, seafood and colours. Some studies suggest that probiotics may help relieve the symptoms of eczema in children. Probiotics can be found in foods like yoghurt and in some supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and fish oil, which help fight inflammation, are also being studied for eczema.

Avoid wool, rather choose 100% cotton, loose fitting clothing against your skin. Sweat can irritate so allow the skin to breath and don’t overheat it with extra covers or electric blankets. Soaps are alkaline and very drying, so a soap substitute is a better option. Avoid scratching if possible and keep your nails short and clean.

Improving the condition of your skin

Beauty starts from within. Eat foods high in antioxidants and natural oils to help your body rid toxins and repair cells - for example berries, avocados, fatty fish, raw nuts and seeds. Supplementing with a good quality oil such as Hemp Seed Oil not only helps to moisturise and soothe the skin it also has anti-aging properties!

Use a mild soap that won't strip the oil from your skin and turn down the shower temperature - if your skin turns red after your shower is too hot. After showering, applying a good moisturiser liberally within a couple of minutes of showering and allow it to soak into the skin rather than rubbing it in. We love MooGoo's Full Cream Moisturiser, Avene's XeraCalm A.D and Weleda's new Skin Food Body Butter.

Treat inflamed areas 

If the skin starts to become red, inflamed or weepy then dermatitis is developing. Moisturiser alone might not be enough, so a topical steroid cream can be used. Mild steroids are available from your pharmacist or check with your doctor if a different product would be suitable for more severe outbreaks. If using a steroid, apply it to all inflamed areas liberally, until the dermatitis has gone and the skin is clear. This often takes 7-14 days. The dermatitis is more likely to recur if not enough steroid is used or stopped too early. Side effects such as skin thinning or growth suppression from using topical corticosteroids for short amounts of time are very rare. The fingertip unit (FTU) is a good guide to know how much cream or ointment to use. One FTU is the distance between the tip of an adult finger and the crease of the first joint and this should cover an area equivalent to the size of the flat of two adult hands with the fingers together. An adult arm would take three FTUs to cover. Drowsy antihistamines may be used to help with disturbed sleep from itchy skin.

Our pharmacists at Ahuriri Pharmacy are available to answer your health questions. Phone us on 06 835 7948 or email. The information provided in this column is to be used as a guide and is not intended as a comprehensive medical service. It should not be used as a substitute for seeking professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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