I dread the dry, gusty Diablo winds that arrive in Northern California each fall. For one thing, they can lead to wildfires, as they did in record-setting fashion this year. Poor air quality from wildfire smoke plagued the Sacramento area where I live for weeks, which aggravated my asthma.
I also suffer from dry skin caused by psoriasis and eczema, and the extremely low relatively humidity brought in by this year’s Diablo wind events made my skin issues even worse.
I didn’t need a weather station to determine just how little moisture was in the air; the dermatologist I’ve seen since I was in my twenties, Dr. Ostreicher, showed me a simple way to check. During one visit, he asked me to lightly scratch my skin and look for a white streak — the sign of a dry spot.
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Dry Skin as the Seasons Change
Besides the winds, there are other reasons for my skin problems to intensify as the seasons change from summer to fall to winter. For starters, when the temperature drops, I instinctively turn up the hot water in the shower, which dries out my skin. I try to remember to use lukewarm water, but it’s not easy, since I’ve always found that a hot shower after a long day soothes and relaxes me.
What’s more, turning on the furnace can lead to drier air. I like to keep the thermostat dialed down, but nights here in the Sacramento Valley can dip below freezing, making heating a necessity. I do use humidifiers in my bedroom and living room to add moisture to the air, but they can’t always keep the humidity in the house as regulated as I’d like.
Asking an Expert About Dry Skin in the Fall and Winter
For more insights on how seasonal shifts affect my skin, I went to Vivian Shi, MD, associate professor in the department of dermatology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock. I’ve known Dr. Shi since she was chief resident in the department of dermatology at the University of California in Davis.
She confirmed a lot of what I have personally experienced, telling me that “Temperature changes, decreased humidity, increased wind chill, and heater use all can make dry skin worse during the fall and winter.”
Dermatologists have taught me to incorporate moisturizing into my daily skin-care regimen. “The key for skin care is to be proactive, rather than reactive,” Shi told me. “Making sure moisturizer use is a routine occurrence is always better than applying it when the skin already looks dry and flaky and is itchy and inflamed.”
Her response confirmed what I began thinking with those Diablo winds: Time to step up my skin-moisturizing game.
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Personalize Your Moisturizing Routine
Shi told me a few years ago that the best moisturizer is the one that is used. Her comment reinforced my need to have a skin-care routine that works for me.
My regimen has evolved over the years. At first I didn’t moisturize enough, especially on those dry fall or winter days. Now my skin-care regimen starts and ends with moisturizers.
First, I use a moisturizing cream, CeraVe, after I shower in the evening to seal in moisture. I try to do it right after I step out of the shower: According to the National Eczema Association, “If you don’t moisturize immediately afterward, the moisture your skin needs will evaporate and may cause a rebound effect, making the skin even more dry.”
I also moisturize after applying prescription ointments, adding a layer of Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream rated for very dry, sensitive skin. (I buy bottles in bulk from Costco.) If my skin or the air is particularly dry, I add Eucerin Original Healing Cream an hour or so later. If I need an ointment for very dry or damaged skin, I like to add Aquaphor.
In the morning I moisturize and apply prescription ointments again, and then again in the afternoon as needed.
You no doubt will have your own routine and favorite moisturizers — be sure to discuss your options and skin-care needs with your healthcare professionals.
Choosing Moisturizers Based on the Seasons
If you’re looking for some direction on which moisturizers to use depending on the season, I can pass along Shi’s recommendations: “While people with dry and sensitive skin may get by with a lighter lotion-based moisturizer during the summer, a thicker cream or ointment-based moisturizer is better during the fall and wintertime,” she told me. “It’s better at locking in the moisture and preventing water evaporation during the cold, dry months.”
Taking good care of my skin, including routinely moisturizing in the fall and winter, requires discipline, planning, and effort. But considering how much it helps my psoriasis and eczema, it’s more than worth it.
You can read more about my experiences in my blog for Everyday Health and on my website.