Home Uncategorized The Winter Itch: What Causes Dry Skin and What You Can Do

The Winter Itch: What Causes Dry Skin and What You Can Do


The “winter itch,” also known as winter xerosis, is a common problem many of us face during the colder, cozier months. Snowfalls, thick socks, and mugs of hot cocoa can make for the perfect indoor atmosphere, but it will likely be a dry one. Along with their icy beauty and calm, the crisp, winter months can bring painful itching of the skin, chapped lips, and split knuckles, among other dry skin symptoms. So, what is causing this horribly dry skin, and what can we do about it?

The Facts

The colder air that winter months bring inherently means that the outdoor humidity will be lower; colder air is less capable of holding moisture, so our surroundings become moisture-deficient, and our skin follows suit. We make matters worse by heating our indoor spaces, although the payoff is ultimate comfort. When we pipe heat into our homes (even via a fireplace) the air becomes warmer—but unless we intervene, that air is just as dry as it was pre-heat source; as a matter of fact, it becomes drier, because as was mentioned above, warmer air can hold more moisture.

Our dermal layer is naturally equipped with protective oils meant to keep skin hydrated and capable of retaining water, but lifestyle choices, genetics, and the environment can all disrupt this natural balance and leave us vulnerable to the winter itch. As science has identified many of the top contributors to dry skin in each of these categories, we now have a wealth of ways to combat these issues and keep our skin looking supple and healthy year-round.


We can make some pretty simple changes to help dramatically improve winter xerosis symptoms. Added fragrances and harsh chemicals in products such as our hand soaps, hand sanitizers, bath bubbles, body soaps, shampoos, and even our laundry detergents are known to irritate the skin. Although it seems counterintuitive, washing hands less during the colder season (even with sanitizer) and using gloves for tasks like washing the dishes will reduce irritation symptoms substantially. When washing ourselves, it’s also best not to use any scrubs, sponges, or towels to apply product; clean hands are almost always our best bet, as they do the least amount of damage to the skin. Switching to more natural products, at least for the colder months, can also help lessen the feelings of dryness that lead to habitual itching.

When towel drying from our shower or bath, it will ease sensitive skin and discomfort to gently pat dry with a soft towel, rather than rubbing down vigorously. The steam and heat of our bath water dries out our skin and contributes to our unwanted itchy, flaky, and tight skin sensations that can spread all over our bodies. Taking shorter, less frequent, and more tepid showers and baths will minimize symptoms. As soon as we’re dry, it’s an ideal time to apply our favorite cream, ointment, or lotion for dry skin. Habitually incorporating this step directly after bathing is the most effective regimen, as products can lock in moisture straight away and protect skin thereafter.


Dry skin symptoms can differ pretty drastically among us, so our products will differ, too. For those of us with oilier skin, winter dryness may mean simply incorporating a daily body lotion. For combination to normal skin types, the cooler air might mean switching from a daily lotion to a thicker cream or ointment. Finally, for those of us who already have dry skin, the winter can become very painful and cause raised, noticeable itchy spots, flaking, and even cracked skin that bleeds. Different levels of dehydration require different solutions, so knowing your options matters.

Moisturizers tend to include humectants (ceramides, glycerin, sorbitol, hyaluronic acid, lecithin), petroleum (like the jelly, as well as silicone, lanolin, mineral oil), and/or emollients (linoleic, linolenic, and lauric acids); these key ingredients all help retain skin’s moisture, though in slightly differing ways. Note that the thicker, oil-based moisturizers will provide more intense moisturization, but may also clog pores and not be suitable for facial use. Select a moisturizer suited to your needs and pay attention to how your body responds; using your product less or more frequently may be a happy medium and an alternative to buying multiple products.

Anything Else?

Yes. Remember first and foremost to keep yourself hydrated. Drink plenty of water, even during the colder, often more sweat-free months. Continue to apply sunscreen before exposure each day, as well, to ensure that you are protected from drying sun damage—contrary to popular belief, the sun is just as capable of causing skin damage when it’s cold outside! Wear clothing made of non-irritating, non-itchy fabrics, and apply a cold pack to any itchy spots that do crop up.

Don’t scratch!

Finally, consider investing in at least one humidifier. These small, fairly quiet and soothing machines are filled with water by the user, plugged into a standard outlet, and used to infuse moisture into the air. They create cool steam which releases water molecules into the parched winter air within our homes, keeping our skin, sinuses, and throat from painfully drying out. While many people opt for a single humidifier for overnight use in their bedroom, multiple humidifiers may be placed throughout the house for a more comfortable overall indoor atmosphere.

Humidifiers tend to be best-suited to different sized rooms, based on their specifications. When selecting the proper machine for your needs, be sure to check the intended room size and compare it against your target area. An open-concept family and dining room will need a machine with a larger dispersion capability than will an average bedroom with a closed door. Over-saturating your place is just as unfavorable as buying a machine without enough power, as the moisture can, in time, affect paint, wallpaper, and other nearby furniture or accessories.

Some humidifiers are now equipped to simultaneously disperse added bonuses like essential oils and vapor rub, and such features can come in handy and be very comforting in times of illness. These small investments now have greater functionality than in the past, but they have always been excellent options for staying comfortable and hydrated—to combat the winter itch!