HOW TO: Beat dry skin in the winter

On the coldest days of a Michigan winter, dry winter air causes dry skin. Dry skin may become commonplace, and treating it with lotions or moisturizers may become secondary when trying to keep warm; however, knowing more about dry skin helps to aid in treating it, detecting it and preventing it.

School of Health Sciences Professor Irene O’Boyle, a 30-year health education instructor, says that everyone suffers from dry skin in the winter months at some point.   She says the first sign of dry skin is usually itching, or a feeling of skin tightness.

“Sometimes the skin will feel tight or prickly.  Another symptom is having areas of dryness, or very small skin cracks,” O’Boyle said.

She also said redness on areas of the skin, in addition to a feeling of tightness, can be a symptom of dry skin.

“When the temperature drops, so does the moisture in our skin,” O’Boyle said.  “The indoor air during the winter gets very dry.”

O’Boyle cited long, hot showers as one cause of dry skin during the winter, explaining that it may be the worst contributing habit.

Hot showers, combined with the dry weather, can irritate your skin and cause the tight or prickly feeling.

The soaps used during hot showers can also be a contributing factor. Soaps that are harsh or the use of rough towels or luffas can increase the chance of dry skin.

This circumstance also applies to certain fabrics, like wool or polyester. According to O’Boyle, as these fabrics rub against the skin, they can cause dryness.  She says that vigorous rubbing has the potential to flake off more skin and continue the cycle.

Her advice is to, “towel dry quickly and don’t rub” after a shower.  “The solution is easy; take shorter showers with a cooler temperature.”

This advice isn’t practical for everyone.  James O’Donnell, a freshman from St. Clair Shores, says he enjoys ten minute hot showers without the repercussions of dry skin.

However, O’Donnell’s lack of dry skin can be attributed to his large fluid intake, another key to beating dry skin.  He said he consumes as many as four bottles of water a day.

Drinking more fluids aids in combating dry skin, O’Boyle says.

In addition to increasing her fluid intake, O’Boyle says adding more humidity to her home is also part of her winter routine.

“I tend to watch the humidity gauge more than the thermometer; it is best to have it at least 40 to 50 percent.”

O’Boyle says using soaps with moisturizers, or following a shower with an effective moisturizer, can help as well. This can include lotions, creams, and body butter.

When searching for a moisturizer that works for your skin, O’Boyle’s advice is to pay less attention to the fragrances, and more attention to the active ingredients.

“I know we all like to smell good, but using a moisturizer with Vitamin E is better,” she says, adding the Ultra Healing Extra Dry Skin Moisturizer by Jergens and Intensive Total Moisture by Vaseline are two of her favorite moisturizing products.


If the concern of cost arises when searching for a moisturizer, look for a generic brand of a lesser cost than the popular brands.

“Many of the local stores have brand names or generics that are similar to name brand products,” O’Boyle says. “Look for ‘compares to active ingredients in …’”

Ultimately, O’Boyle says students should avoid hot showers that last longer than five minutes, in addition to moisturizing often and drinking plenty of fluids, to combat dry skin in the winter.  She also says it is important for students to wear gloves during cold weather to protect their hands.

Some mild itching or skin irritation in the winter is normal, however if this goes beyond a mild irritation, it is always best to see a physician.