Updated 1/20/17. Winter is here and for many (like me) this includes having dry and itchy skin on the body. It’s one thing to have the skin be dry and flaky (which is common for most people in the winter months), But to have an ongoing itch that is tempting to scratch is really annoying and makes the dry skin condition all the more problematic. So why exactly does the skin itch and what can be done to solve this?
Your skin has a moisture barrier made of natural lipids that keep moisture in the skin and irritants out. When this barrier is damaged (due to age, skin thinness, drying soaps and shower gels, cold winter air, and genetics that is linked to a mutation in the filaggrin gene) it creates tiny, invisible cracks in the skin that allow moisture to escape, resulting in the skin being visibly flaky. Through these cracks in the skin, irritants like friction from scratchy clothing, heavily perfumed lotions, and overuse of abrasive body salt scrubs can stimulate nerve endings and cause the skin to feel sensitive and itchy.
If you’ve just been applying heavy body lotion to resolve this condition, this simply won’t do the trick. With the following tips, you can truly repair the dryness and itchiness—once and for all.
1. Avoid using bar soap or high-foaming body washes. The body has far fewer oil glands than that of the face and the ones that you do have decrease with age, making the skin more difficult to stay moist. Due to the high pH of bar soaps and highly foaming body washes, these can be very stripping to the skin and make dryness and itchiness worse. Instead, use a non-drying, low-foaming shower gel. Look for ones that are creamy in consistency and say ‘sulfate-free’ on the bottle. Avoid the ingredients Sodium Laureth Sulfate or Ammonium Laureth Sulfate, as these only further damage the skin’s barrier. If you’re using the wrong cleansing wash, you’re instantly stripping moisture, which is the worst thing you can do for dry skin.
2. Use a humidifier. Whenever the air is dry and moisture is not present, the air draws moisture from wherever it can (through a process called osmosis) and especially in the winter, it will take it from your skin. Using a humidifier helps counteract the drying air so moisture is less likely to evaporate. Here’s three more reasons to use a humidifier in the winter.
3. Exfoliate the skin gently twice a week. Gently removing surface dry, flaky skin cells will not only make the skin look smoother and feel softer, but it will also allow moisturizing ingredients found in a body lotion or oil to be able to penetrate deeper within the skin to repair the skin’s moisture barrier more effectively. Avoid using scrubs containing salt, apricot kernels, walnut husks or other natural grains. These have sharp edges and can scratch and lacerate the skin causing even further skin irritation. Instead, look for body scrubs using natural round jojoba beads that will gently roll across the skin or just use a dry body brush. Removing dry cells is one of the best things you can do for the skin as long as you immediately apply a good lotion or oil on freshly exfoliated skin.
4. Use a body lotion or oil in the morning and evening, but choose one with barrier-repairing ingredients. Not all moisturizing ingredients are equal, but the ones below are some of the most effective for repairing dry, itchy skin:
Bois De Rose Oil
Evening Primrose Oil
Sweet Almond Oil
Sesame Seed Oil
These ingredients will correct both the lack of oil and lack of hydration deep within your skin and actually repair the skin’s lipid moisture barrier, making your skin moist, supple, and smooth. It’s a fact that hydrated skin is healthy skin, so start looking at your ingredient labels to find the best body lotion to effectively treat dry, flaky skin. I also recommend to avoid using body lotions or oils that use synthetic fragrance as this can exacerbate itchiness. Recommendation: Pro Remedy Oil.
5. Avoid tight clothing with scratchy fibers. I know for me, itchiness occurs on my hips where my clothes are the tightest. The rubbing when I move around adds to the irritation and causes my skin to itch like crazy. Even though I don’t have visible dryness in this area, it is still a sign of a damaged moisture barrier, so I have to treat this area by regularly exfoliating and moisturizing. Fabrics like wool can add to skin irritation so it’s best to wear cotton, silk or smooth fabrics next to the skin.
6. Avoid using the shower fan. During the winter when the heat is on in the house, it can create an exceptionally dry environment. When the air is dry it seeks moisture and steals it from wherever it is available. This includes moisture found in the soil of houseplants, baked goods sitting out on your counter (muffins and bread will dry out more quickly in the winter) and your skin. After taking a warm shower, the moisture collects and hangs in the air. If possible, do not run your bathroom fan or vent to eliminate the steam. Instead, allow the humidity to linger. This will encourage the moisture to remain in the air, which will keep your skin comfortably hydrated. As mentioned previously, be sure to apply a body lotion or oil immediately after you get out of the shower.
7. Eat foods that contain “good fats.” Almonds, salmon, sardines, avocados, walnuts and olive oil all contain fatty acids that keep the skin moist from the inside out. Consider taking an Evening Primrose supplement to offer additional comfort for dry, itchy skin.
8. When all else fails, apply a cortisone cream. For itchiness, applying a non-prescription, topical 1% cortisone cream in place of a body lotion can provide anti-inflammatory relief. You can also mix this in with a body lotion before applying it to the skin.
With these expert tips, you should dramatically reduce the visible flakiness and get the itching under control.
Read: Why Does The Skin Look Better After A Good Night’s Sleep?
Read: Five Skin Emergencies—Solved!
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