Skip to main content
Dartmouth-Hitchcock logo
Summer Flowers In This Section

Interview with Dr. Peter Sands

Caring for Your Winter Skin Brings Welcome Relief

By Marc Thaler, Staff Writer – The Bow Times


The days of soaking up the sun might seem far away when living in winter's frigid temperatures. Providing your skin with adequate protection might be equally far from your mind.

But it's just as important in winter. Properly moisturizing your skin, applying sunscreen and dressing appropriately are three critical steps to maintaining healthy skin during the winter months.

"The great itch of the north," also known as dry skin, often occurs during the winter because cold air has no water in it, said Dr. Peter Sands, a dermatologist at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Clinic in Concord.

Water is a key component to keeping skin moist, but very low humidity in the air can create the uncomfortable feeling.

"As people get older, they can become more sensitive to the drying effect," Sands said. "Their skin becomes itchy, which makes them scratch it. It's a vicious cycle that can develop into a rash. I like to recommend humidifying the house to the point where condensation is seen on the windows."

Sands added that he understands this tactic may not be practical for everyone. At the very least, he recommended humidifying the room or rooms where people spend a large amount of time. For most, that means the bedroom, he said.

The use of nondrying cleansers instead of regular bar soap is also important. Sands suggested Cetaphil, a liquid cleanser and soap substitute, because it is much less drying. Major chains such as Wal-Mart, CVS and Rite Aid normally supply generic versions of the product for those concerned that the name brand is too expensive, he said.

A couple of other over the counter anti-itch creams for people dealing with dry skin are Sarna and Aveeno. Sarna contains the cooling agent phenol. Applying this to the skin sends the cool sensation to the brain. Since the itching sensation travels on the same pathway to the brain, said Sands, the cooling agent creates a dulling effect. Aveeno contains oatmeal, which is also an effective combatant.

Another important element to maintaining healthy-looking skin is the continual use of moisturizer. According to Sands, frequent bathing can actually dry the skin.

"When a lot of people get out of the shower or finish taking a bath, they like to air dry," he said. "The key time to moisturize is within three minutes (after bathing)."

Vaseline Intensive Care and Vaseline ointment are two products that come highly recommended. Vaseline Intensive Care is a creamy lotion that contains water in it. It applies easily and isn't greasy. Vaseline ointment is thicker and greasier. Sands suggested this product for dry heels and elbows and said it's better to use this product when you won't be touching anything.

Equally significant is the impact of the sun on skin during the winter. "Use sunscreen in the winter because skin can still be damaged by the sun," Sands said. "Especially for people who like to ski, this is important. The sun's rays are intensified at higher altitudes – when you're at the top of a mountain – and reflected rays (off the snow) can be damaging if your skin isn't properly protected."

Sands recommended Oil of Olay Daily Facial Moisturizer because it is a combination sunscreen and moisturizer. Chapstick that contains sunscreen is also a must-have. Lips can get skin cancer too, and it's an area often neglected, Sands said.

"If you can protect yourself from significant sun exposure up to the age of 18, you may decrease your lifetime risk of preventing skin cancer by 80 percent," he added.

Lastly, bundle up when you head outdoors. Along with skin care products, there's no substitute for dressing appropriately.

If skin is exposed to the extreme cold, be aware of its color. Generally, just being cold doesn't injure the skin, Sands said.

In most instances, cold skin will turn a rosy pink color. It might hurt upon re-entering a warm room, but should be fine.

Frostbite, however, might develop if the skin turns a grayish-white color. Should this occur, it's best to make a trip to the emergency room, he said.

Posted with permission of "Your Neighborhood News"

Contact Us