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January 16, 2013

Montefiore Medical Center Dermatologist Offers Cold-Weather Skincare Advice for the Whole Family

NEW YORK CITY (January 16, 2013) – Young or old, we all need to take special care of our skin during the cold winter months. Chilly, dry air outdoors and forced-air heat indoors can be a lethal combination for skin, causing it to lose its ability to retain moisture and become dry, cracked and itchy.

“Simple daily steps can ‘winter-proof’ the skin and help prevent more serious health conditions,” says Karthik Krishnamurthy, D.O., dermatologist at Montefiore Medical Center. “Bacteria love to colonize in cracks in the skin, which can lead to severe skin infections and even spread internally if not treated rapidly. This is why preventing dry skin is so important.”

To keep skin hydrated and healthy during the winter months, Dr. Krishnamurthy offers the following tips:

  • Simple daily care is the key to healthy skin.  Shower only once daily for less than 10 minutes. The longer the shower, the more natural oils and nutrients are lost. Opt for lukewarm water and avoid very hot water. Use gentle, fragrance-free soaps and choose sponges over harsher scrubs. The same applies for children.

“In kids we see a lot of eczema flare ups in the winter, even in children with no history of skin problems,” Dr. Krishnamurthy says. “Be wary of extended bathing time, as this draws both salt and moisture out of the skin.  This process is accelerated with bubble baths. Sitting in soapy water strips natural, protective oils from the skin, allowing it to dry out much faster.”

  • Make moisturizing a daily habit. Moisturize immediately after showering or bathing. While your skin is still wet, apply petroleum jelly, which spreads very easily, then towel dry. 

“What happens is that the water cannot penetrate past the oil, so it’s forced back into your skin,” Dr. Krishnamurthy said. “Many people are skeptical, but in a few weeks are amazed by the difference and lack of greasiness, if done while the skin is still moist.”

  • Protect skin from the inside out. Poor nutrition can be a major source of skin disease.  Deficiencies in B-vitamins (niacin, riboflavin) can lead to dry, itchy skin. Eating turkey, tuna, whole grains, lentils and bananas will help maintain healthy levels of B-vitamins in the body. On the other hand, ingesting beer or alcohol depletes B-vitamins and can make winter skin worse. A deficiency in vitamin C results in fragile skin, so it’s also beneficial to eat citrus fruits, green or red peppers and tomato juice. Supplementing with a multi-vitamin also is recommended.
  • Be aware if skin needs extra care. People with pre-existing skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis as well as those with thyroid disease are at greater risk for skin problems and discomfort during the winter. In addition, people who take multiple medications, especially the elderly, are susceptible to winter skin. Environmental conditions can also have an impact. Too much heat or not enough heat can contribute to low humidity in the home, so maintaining normal room temperature (between 67-74 degrees) is advised.
  • It may be cold, but don’t forget the sunscreen. Although it is cold outside, the sun shines ultraviolet light year-round. In fact, it’s possible to get even more sun exposure on a snowy day than a summer day. Snow reflects ultraviolet light, so there is double exposure from above and below. Use sunscreen all year round, and choose one that is SPF 30 and also boasts UVA protection with ingredients such as zinc oxide or avobenzone.

Dr. Krishnamurthy is co-director of the cosmetic clinic at Montefiore’s Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery and assistant professor of Dermatology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  He provides general and cosmetic dermatologic care and specializes in prevention and detection of melanoma and other types of skin cancer in his role as chief dermatology consultant with the Melanoma/Sarcoma Program at the Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care.