By Angie Kim, University of Washington Pharm.D Candidate 2014

While we all know it is important to protect the skin from sunlight and UV-radiation, it is also important to protect the skin from damage that can be done in the cold weather. In preparation of November’s National Healthy Skin Month, take some time to evaluate your skin by starting with something as simple as treating dry skin. The clinical term for dry skin is “xerosis.” It is common for people to experience dry skin in the fall and winter months. Dryness makes the skin susceptible to itching, flaking, cracking, and even bleeding. Strong winds and indoor heating add to this damage. Here are some tips for relieving dry skin:1,2

  1. Avoid using hot water. Hot water strips the natural oils from your skin faster than warm or cool water.
  2. Wash your face with a cleanser only in the evenings and rinse with cool water in the mornings. Avoid cleansing too much. Dermatologists recommend a mild, non-drying and non-fragrant soap such as Dove, Oil of Olay or Aveeno Cleansing Bar for Dry Skin.1
  3. Limit shower time to no more than 5 to 10 minutes. More time in the shower can make your skin dry. This may seem counterintuitive, but those who constantly wash their hands throughout the day know that prolonged contact with water dries out the skin.
  4. Apply moisturizer immediately after showering while the skin is still damp. This allows the skin to capture the moisture. Applying moisturizer not only helps to keep the skin healthy and soft, but it also soothes the skin to lessen itching and provides a protective barrier against germs.
  5. Use ointment and creams over lotions. Ointments or cream containing jojoba oil, olive oil or shea butter work well. Other ingredients include lactic acid, urea, hyaluronic acid, dimethicone, glycerin, lanolin, mineral oil and petrolatum.1 See below for more detail on these ingredients.
  6. When shaving, do so after washing. Apply cream or gel and leave it on for a few minutes. Shave in the direction of hair growth. Blades should be changed every 5 to 7 shaves because dull blades may irritate dry skin.
  7. Use a humidifier and a cool damp cloth to keep the skin moist. Keep your environment moist, even in dry weather.
  8. Stay away from direct contact with heaters, hair dryers, and fireplaces. Heat can irritate and dry the skin.
  9. Use gloves. Protect your hands from the cold weather and wind. Also, protect your hand from water by wearing gloves when cleaning or washing the dishes.
  10. Avoid clothes with wool or synthetic fibers that may scratch the skin. Choose clothing made of cotton and natural fibers. When wearing clothes with synthetic fibers, wear a layer of cotton underneath to prevent direct contact with the skin.

When choosing a moisturizer, look for the ingredients that best suite your need. Lactate and urea are keratolytics that help to break down and shed dead skin. It is a good choice for flaky skin and will additionally soften and soothe the skin. Be sure to apply sunscreen when using ammonium lactate because it causes the skin to be sensitive to sunlight.

Glycerin, dimethicone and hyaluronic acid are humectants that help the skin retain water. These products attract water to the skin layer and hold it there.  These ingredients can be found in Cetaphil and CeraVe.

Lanolin, mineral oil and petrolatum are occlusive emollients that allow the skin to hold onto the water absorbed while showering and provide a protective layer. Although these ingredients are good for providing a protective layer, there are some things to consider when using products with these ingredients.  Vanicream contains lanolin, an oily substance secreted by sheep, which has been noted to create allergic response in some patients.3 Products such as Eucerin or Lubriderm contain mineral oil, which can make the skin feel heavy and leave oily residues. Aquaphor contains petrolatum, which is great for capturing moisture, but can slow the skin’s recovery time. If any of these products are too thick or oily, limit the use to bedtime and use a less occlusive agent during the day.

If problems with dry skin persist, contact your physician or dermatologist for further options. These tips can also be useful for treating dry skin due to other causes including exposure to chemicals, aging, eczema, and psoriasis. For more information, visit the American Academy of Dermatology.


1. American Academy of Dermatology. Dry skin: Tips for relieving. American Academy of Dermatology.—d/dry-skin/tips. Updated 2013. Accessed October 08, 2013.

2. Dry Skin. In DynaMed [database online]. EBSCO Information Services. Updated April 29,2013. Accessed October 08, 2013.

3. Loden, Marie. The clinical benefit of moisturizers. European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. Published November 19, 2005;(6):672-688.