Soothe Dry Skin When You Have a Cold
By Mary Jo DiLonardo
Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD
Long, hot showers can help ease a stopped up head, but they dry your skin. Because spending a lot of time in the water can suck the moisture right out of your skin, limit your bath or shower to 5-10 minutes. Use warm — not hot — water. And only take a shower or bath once every 24 hours.
Skip the soap. “The purpose of soap is to cut grease. The greasy, oily layer on top of our skin keeps the water underneath it in and keeps our skin hydrated,” says Karthik Krishnamurthy, DO, director of the Cosmetic Dermatology Clinic at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. “Soap strips away that oily layer. The important thing is to get water back in our skin and get a greasy layer back on.”
Instead of soap, use a gentle non-soap cleanser on your face and body. Don’t use antibacterial or perfumed soap, deodorant bars, exfoliating cleansers, or any skin care products that contain alcohol — like many hand sanitizers. Use products that are fragrance-free. They’re less likely to irritate and dry your skin.
After your shower or bath, slather on moisturizer right away — ideally while your skin is still soaking wet, Krishnamurthy says. “Leave your moisturizer on the shower shelf with your soap and shampoo. Don’t even step out of the shower. Put it on while you’re dripping wet, then pat yourself dry.”
Thick, heavy creams last longer than light lotions. The thicker and greasier the lotion, the more it will trap and hold the water in your skin. You can look for ingredients like ceramides that are like skin’s natural fat. But simple petroleum jelly, mineral oil, shea butter, and glycerin are effective moisturizers, too.
For places with very dry skin — like on the bottom of your feet — try ingredients like urea or lactic acid. They help skin hold in moisture, but can sting if you have cracked skin or eczema.
Moisturize throughout the day. Since you’ll be washing your hands often to keep from spreading germs, keep lotion by the sink so you can nourish your skin every time you wash up. If your skin feels itchy or uncomfortable throughout the day — especially your hands, arms, and legs — then moisturize. Reapply before you go to bed.
Protect From the Outdoors
When you have a cold, you should stay home while you’re getting better. But if you have to go out, protect your skin.
The sun, wind, and cold all can be enemies when your skin is dry and sore. Though the sun’s rays can be less intense in cold weather, they can still burn and damage your skin — leading to even more peeling, flaking, and itchiness. That’s why it’s important to wear sunscreen all year long. Choose a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen of SPF 30.
Wearing a scarf, hat, and gloves can protect from the sun. They can also help save you from the drying effects of cold weather and wind.
Hydrate Your House and Body
Dry indoor air can irritate your skin and your sinuses, so keep indoor air moist. Install a whole-house humidifier on your furnace or use a room humidifier or two. Keep humidity set between 30% and 50%. If you use a room humidifier, clean it often so mold or mildew don’t build up.
Keep your skin hydrated from the inside out by getting enough healthy fats and vitamins. Fatty acids like omega-3s help make up your skin’s natural, moisture-retaining oil barrier. Too few of these healthy fats can result in dry, itchy skin. You can get omega-3s from seafood (especially salmon and tuna), as well as flaxseed, walnuts, and canola oil.
Foods rich in vitamins also help keep your skin moist and healthy. Eat plenty of poultry, fish, whole grains, and beans.
American Academy of Dermatology: “Dry skin: Tips for relieving,” “Dry skin: Treatment, diagnosis, and outcome.”
Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Publications: “9 Ways to Banish Dry Skin.”
Karthik Krishnamurthy, DO, director, Cosmetic Dermatology Clinic, Montefiore Medical Center.
National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: “Vitamin B6.”
University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics: “Winter Dry Skin.”
University of Rochester Medical Center: “Air Filters, Dehumidifiers, and Humidifiers.”
CDC: “Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work.”
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 22, 2013
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