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Health & Wellness

Don’t let winter wreck your skin

Don’t let winter wreck your skin.

Health Matters

Despite recent unseasonably warm weather, Monday’s snowstorm reminds us that winter’s whipping winds and bone-chilling frost are always right around the corner. The cold, dry Boston winters, coupled with indoor heating, can cause skin to be less than supple, leading to cracking, burning, and itchiness. To combat winter’s assault on our skin, says Ross Zeltser, chief resident in the School of Medicine dermatology department’s BU/Tufts Residency Program, “moisturizing is key.” 

“What happens in the winter in a climate like Boston is that skin becomes dehydrated, causing it to lose some of its protective barrier properties,” Zeltser says. “Loss of water also leads to irritation, inflammation, redness, burning, itching, scaliness, and cracking.” Common skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea become exacerbated in the winter.

Moisturizers trap the water within the skin, keeping it hydrated, according to Zeltser. He suggests using an ample amount of moisturizer as often as needed to make skin feel more comfortable. “Generally, the heavier and greasier the moisturizer, such as Vaseline, the more effective it is; however, these are also less cosmetically appealing. Ointments are heavier, oilier than creams,” he says. “Try several and pick the one that feels the best.”

When you find a lotion you like, make sure it contains sunblock. Although the sun is less intense during the winter, it can still cause damage and even sunburn, Zeltser says, especially on the ski slopes.

There’s a tendency to think that expensive moisturizers work better than the cheaper versions found in drug stores, but Zeltser says that the less expensive ones can be just as good. “Generally, cost does not correlate with effectiveness, but rather with marketing,” he says. “A $100 cream probably came from the same big vat as a $5 cream, but was put in a much fancier bottle and was much more extensively advertised.”