Our dry Utah climate combined with freezing temperatures and furnace-blasted air leave us with dry, red, itchy skin. If your normal moisturizing routine isn’t doing the trick anymore, you may be dealing with something more that deserves a little extra attention.
The Problem: Ruddy nose and cheeks
The Diagnosis: Rosacea causes small blood vessels to swell and become more visible, giving the face a red glow. In addition, pimply bumps resembling adult acne often appear on the nose and cheeks, says Robert Brodell, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. You’re more susceptible to rosacea if it runs in your family or if you have light skin, blue eyes and blond hair.
Winterproofing: The inflammation of rosacea can be treated with prescription topical antibiotic or retinoid creams, oral antibiotics and laser therapies. When heading outdoors, be sure to protect your face with a soft scarf.
The Problem: Red patches of skin are covered with silvery scales.
The Diagnosis: Psoriasis affects an estimated 7.5 million Americans. This inherited autoimmune disease causes itchy, dry, sometimes painful patches to build up on elbows, knees, scalp and lower back. And the disease often goes beyond skin-deep: Those with severe psoriasis are at least 24% more likely to have a heart attack due to artery-clogging inflammation brought on by an overreactive immune system.
Winterproofing: Flare-ups generally occur in the colder months when there’s a decrease in exposure to the sun’s UVB rays, which help slow down skin-cell growth. Phototherapy treatments at a dermatologist’s office or prescription home-light units (usually covered by insurance) are your best UVB options. (Skip tanning beds—they mostly emit harmful UVA rays.) Light therapies are most effective when combined with medications like retinoids, methotrexate (a chemo drug), or cyclosporine (an immunosuppressant). Topical corticosteroid, retinoid and vitamin D3 creams alleviate mild symptoms.
The Problem: Dry, cracked, itchy spots, often on the hands.
The Diagnosis: Eczema is a condition that encompasses myriad skin problems and often affects people with allergies and asthma. Adults typically get a form of eczema called hand dermatitis, and like other skin conditions, it worsens when temperatures and humidity levels drop.
Winterproofing: Before you brave the cold, apply an oil-based moisturizer to your hands (and face and ears, if necessary) and wear gloves. It’s also a good idea to counteract dryness at home with a humidifier. Since scratching causes eczema-prone areas to thicken and turn leathery, ask your doctor about prescription oral antibiotics, antihistamines, steroids, or topical corticosteroid creams.
The Problem: Sandpapery, hard bumps that seem to pop up overnight.
The Diagnosis: Actinic keratoses (AKs) are one of the most common reasons people see dermatologists. Sometimes called sun or solar spots, AKs are precursors to skin cancer and are typically found on areas that get a lot of sun exposure, like the face, lips, ears, back of hands, forearms and scalp. “You may feel the bumps before you see them,” says Dr. Brodell. Their color, size and shape vary: Lesions can be skin-colored or red, yellow, or brown. Some grow so rapidly that they form a horn shape and can range in size from a pinhead to an eraser. Those who are fair-skinned, blue-eyed and over age 39 are most susceptible.
Winterproofing: It’s tempting to forgo daily sunscreen now that the sun seems less intense, but snow and ice reflect 80% of the sun’s damaging rays. “Regardless of the weather, you should apply broad-spectrum sunscreen to exposed skin every day, including a lip balm or lipstick with SPF,” says Dr. Stein Gold. Sunscreen is especially important if you’re going to be outside shoveling, sledding, or engaging in winter sports like skiing. Since doctors can’t determine whether a lesion will actually become cancerous, all AKs need to be removed through freezing, surgery, scraping, or topical creams. Other treatment options include chemical peels, microdermabrasion and laser or light therapies.