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Understanding and Fighting Winter Itch

By: Ahmed Abdullah, MD
Posted: October 28, 2011, from the November 2011 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
skin care client with itchy skin

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Aloe vera. This is one of the few natural substances scientifically proven to benefit the body. Recent research has helped support the idea that it is beneficial in improving skin hydration due to its humectant properties.

Dry winter skin is best treated with a moisturizer that is rich in humectants. Formulations of this type tend to be heavier and are often marketed as night moisturizers. Regardless of the label, dry skin will benefit from their use throughout the day. Remind clients that it’s essential for them to reapply moisturizer every few hours when fighting dry skin. An alternative option is to supplement their morning and evening skin care routine with repeated use of a spray toner rich in humectants throughout the day.


Although exfoliation is a necessary skin care step year-round, and is one that may be implemented daily with use of a chemical exfoliant safe for at-home use, it’s especially vital for those with dry skin. Remember that the diminished water content and reduced lipid levels associated with dry skin interrupt the normal desquamation process. Daily use of an effective chemical exfoliant will encourage the proper shedding of dead skin cells. Not only will this result in skin that looks better, but it will also improve the skin’s overall health.

Traditional recommendations

A number of age-old recommendations still hold a good deal of value and should continue to be provided to clients. These include the following.

  • Take fewer and/or shorter showers and baths, and reduce water temperatures. This is an essential step for those with dry skin, but should be followed by those with healthy skin, as well. As mentioned previously, water leaches NMFs from the skin and affects its lipid content.
  • Avoid the use of harsh soaps and detergents, as well as the frequent use of hand sanitizers. These ingredients remove the skin’s acid mantle, thus increasing the rate of TEWL. Instead, alcohol-free hand sanitizer and glycerin soap are recommended.
  • Use a cool-mist humidifier in the home and office to maintain proper humidity levels. This will help skin maintain hydration by slowing the rate of TEWL.

The best course of treatment

Although most skin care professionals have a standard list of effective recommendations in the fight against dry winter skin and dry skin at large, it’s beneficial to stay abreast of the latest research relative to skin hydration and the ingredients that support it. After all, the scientific gains being made in the field of skin care are many and are leading to the constant development of increasingly effective formulations. By staying aware of research into the condition and the science behind it, you’re best prepared to give your clientele the very best course of treatment. And that, no doubt, will lead to a strong and long-lasting professional relationship.

General References