You’re in a meeting, and you can’t help it. Your shin itches. You have to reach down and scratch. You nearly hit your chin on the table and the boss looks at you funny.
How can you explain the problem of winter skin itch?
It attacks us in the cold winter months. It’s all that dry, dry air, and this winter has been particularly potent across the country. While we’re trying to dig ourselves out of a mountain of snow, we’re suffering because of dry, flaky, itchy skin.
It’s time to get more comfortable, and stop all that embarrassing scratching. Try these 7 tips to get rid of winter skin itch for good!
How to Solve that Itchy, Uncomfortable Skin
Dry skin is more common in the winter, and your skin may not only feel dry and tight, but may also peel, crack, or look ashy. The cold weather is the biggest cause of the problem, but central heat also robs the air of humidity, so that it steals more hydration from your skin. Since you’re exposed to both the cold air and the heated air every day, it doesn’t take long for the results to start showing on your skin.
The following tips should help, but here’s one caution: If your itching becomes severe, or if your skin starts to develop wounds that may get infected, check with your doctor or dermatologist.
Often the reason your skin is itching is because of that hard layer of dead skin cells on top. This layer develops more quickly in the winter, so you may need to step up your exfoliation. That means not only your face, but your body too. Use a scrubby in the bath and shower, and better yet, try to incorporate dry brushing into your routine at least once a week. (Read more about that in our post on dry brushing.)
Just be sure not to use harsh products that contain nuts or beads that scratch and damage skin, as these can increase risk of breakouts and inflammation. Use products with natural clays, gentle fruit acids, and gentler scrubbers like sugar.
2. Ramp up the humidity.
Unless you live in a very humid climate, you probably want to use a humidifier in the places where you spend the most time every day. Your bedroom and your office are two good options, but your bedroom is the most important. These little machines add moisture back into the air, which can stop it from taking all the hydration from your skin. (Air likes moisture!)
Be sure you keep the machine clean to avoid mold growth. Clean according to the machine’s instructions once a week.
3. Take an oatmeal bath.
There are great in the winter, as they help to soothe overtaxed skin. Oatmeal is a natural anti-itch ingredient, as well as a natural anti-inflammatory, and is very calming to skin.
You can add other things to increase moisture. Place one cup of oats into a blender and spin until it changes into a fine powder, and then mix that in with your bath water as it’s filling up. You can add in some of your favorite essential oils for a pleasing scent, and a natural carrier oil like olive, coconut, or jojoba for additional moisture.
4. Moisturize, moisturize.
This one goes without saying, but we’re including it here because it really matters what type of moisturizer you choose. Those full of petrolatum and other cheap ingredients will evaporate quickly, leaving you dry again, and sometimes even causing more dryness than they address.
The best time to apply your moisturizer is right after you get out of the bath or shower, when your skin is still damp. We recommend our Body Repair Lotion, as the natural ingredients sink into the skin and provide lasting results. For major problem areas, like your hands or elbows, you can wrap the area in plastic wrap for about 15-30 minutes to seal the moisture in. Then reapply throughout the day as you need to.
5. Practice regular stress relief.
Stress can cause your skin to lose water. A 2001 study found that skin was less able to retain water during periods of stress. In a later 2014 study review, researchers found that there is a definite brain-skin connection, and that stress not only induces water loss, but inflammation and aging as well.
Make sure you’re practicing regular stress relief, through meditation, journaling, yoga, pet therapy, or whatever works for you. We don’t often think of these activities as contributing to healthy skin, but they do!
6. Get more omega-3s.
These nutrients, which are found in fatty fish and in other goodies like walnuts and flaxseed, are critical for healthy skin. They have been shown in studies to help maintain the moisture level in skin, to reduce inflammation, and even to help reduce psoriasis and eczema flare-ups. In a 2011 study, for instance, researchers found that supplements of omega-3 fatty acids reduced symptoms of psoriasis, and reduced lesions and scaling.
Essential fatty acids like omega-3s cannot be made in our bodies. We have to get them from our diet. And these little guys are super important to the skin, both at the surface and deeper layers. In fact, some studies have reported that higher dietary intakes of essential fatty acids are associated with more youthful skin appearance and with increased protection from UV rays.
Add more omega-3-rich foods to your diet, and consider taking an omega-3 supplement as well. Most of us don’t get quite as much as we need from food.
7. Get more vitamin D.
In 2009, researchers reported that three-quarters of Americans were deficient in vitamin D. That’s not good news for skin.
Vitamin D is critical in a couple ways. First, it supports the process of skin renewal, where the younger skin cells rise to the surface to replace the older ones. It’s also important for normal cell growth, wound healing, and maintaining the barrier function of skin, which is what helps the skin hold onto moisture.
Interestingly enough, some studies have now found that vitamin D supplements can help reduce symptoms of winter-related eczema. A 2014 study reported that symptoms are often worse in the winter because of the dryness, so they gave half of participants a vitamin D supplement (of 1,000 IUs) and the other half a placebo. Those taking the real vitamin D supplement experienced improvements in their symptoms by 29 percent, compared to only 16 percent in the placebo group.
It’s easy to get low on vitamin D in the winter. We make it when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Sure, we can get a little bit from foods like dairy products, fatty fish, and egg yolks, but not enough to meet our needs. If you live in the northern latitudes, it’s likely you’re missing out because of the lack of sunlight during the winter.
The daily recommended amount ranges from 600–800 IUs, but most doctors feel that’s too low, and suggest at least 1,000 IUs a day. The upper limit is 4,000 IUs a day.
How do you manage winter skin itch?
Amit Garg, et al., “Psychological Stress Perturbs Epidermal Permeability Barrier Homeostatis,” Arch Dermatol., 2001; 137(1):53-59, http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/478156.
Ying Chen, John Lyga, “Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging,” Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets, 2014 Jun; 13(3):177-190, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082169/.
G Marquez Balbas, et al., “Study on the use of omega-3 fatty acids as therapeutic supplement in treatment of psoriasis,” Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol., 2011; 4:73-77, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3133503/.
“Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health,” Linus Pauling Institute, http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/essential-fatty-acids.
Adit A. Ginde, et al., “Demographic Differences and Trends of Vitamin D Insufficiency in the U.S. Population, 1988-2004,” Arch Inter Med. 2009; 169(6):626-632, http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=414878.
“Vitamin D supplements significantly improve symptoms of winter-related atopic dermatitis in children,” Massachusetts General Hospital, [News Release], October 3, 2014, http://www.massgeneral.org/about/pressrelease.aspx?id=1746.
“Vitamin D and Skin Health,” Linus Pauling Institute, http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health/vitamin-D.