By now, many Southwestern Pennsylvania residents have turned on the furnace, pulled out their heavier jackets, gloves and hats and put away the garden hose and lawnmower for the upcoming winter.

With chilly air in place, it’s also time for the region’s residents to winterize their skincare routine.

Late fall and winter can be a trying time for skin leading to rashes, flareups of psoriasis, rosacea and eczema, chapped lips and dry, flaky, irritated skin.

What’s the best course of action?

Dr. Justin Vujevich of Vujevich Dermatology Associates in Washington, Mt. Lebanon and Pleasant Hills has some answers.

Year-round skin care

Vujevich said people should always have good skin care throughout the year. But should most people’s skincare routine change depending on the season? He recommends year-round use of sunscreen but dialing back on the SPF during cold months.

“This includes the daily use of a facial lotion with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 on the face to protect against aging and cancer-causing ultraviolet rays of the sun,” Vujevich said, “and the use of moisturizers or emollients to regulate water content of the skin and to help treat and prevent dryness.”

Colder air and switching on the furnace affects people’s skin and body every year.

“Our skin likes water. It’s the largest organ in our bodies and protects our underlying tissues from the harmful effects of infection, physical disruption and ultraviolet rays,” Vujevich said. “In healthy skin, water is responsible for preserving the normal function and natural skin barrier. As the weather changes and the humidity drops, this can cause disruption of our normal skin barrier resulting in water loss from our skin.”

That flakiness many see as a result of dry skin is actually the skin aging more rapidly.

“This water loss can result in abnormal maturation of the skin cells from the basal layer to the top layer called the stratum corneum and cause abnormal clumping or stacking of skin cells,” Vujevich said. “We see this as skin scaling or dry skin.”

Replenishing skin’s moisture

To fight that dryness, the skin’s moisture should be replenished. Is there a difference in effectiveness between lotions, creams or oils?

Vujevich said it comes down to user preference.

“Moisturizers or emollients are emulsions consisting of water in oil or oil in water that act to rehydrate the top layer of the skin by adding water-binding compounds and fats,” he said. “This reduces water loss from the skin and allows repair of the dysfunctional skin cells caused by dryness.”

Lotions contain more water than fats while creams contain fats, water and an emulsifier. Oils and ointments are primarily fat-based. All types of emollients work well to help skin dryness, so Vujevich said each person should use what they like best.

“The best emollient or moisturizer for the skin depends on a variety of factors including seasonality, patient tolerance, cost and body surface area,” he said. “For example, the best moisturizer for the face should be non-comedogenic, or not block pores, so lotions (which contain less oils) are a better choice as a facial moisturizer.”

On the other hand, creams and ointments – such as Vaseline – are better emollients for the trunk and extremities which tend to have more irritation and water loss. The trade off is they are thicker and greasier.

“The message I give to my patients is to use the moisturizer they will tolerate for their specific requirement and use it daily,” Vujevich said.

Here are some of Vujevich’s other winter skin care tips:

  • Use fragrance-free detergents, fabric softeners, cleansers and moisturizers. Fragrances can cause an allergic reaction or irritate skin causing redness, flaking or itching.
  • Avoid fragrant/perfumed body wash, lotion and bubble bath. Skin cannot handle frequent washing with detergents which rob it of essential fats.
  • Use thick fragrance-free moisturizer at least twice a day, more often if skin appears dry. He recommended applying immediately after showering while skin is still moist or wet.
  • Take lukewarm baths/showers, not hot, as the increased temperature can irritate skin. Limit showers to 10 minutes or less.
  • Pat dry after bathing. Do not rub or scrub with an exfoliating pad. This will cause increased irritation in the long run.
  • Try using a cool-mist humidifier in the bedroom, to boost humidity levels and help prevent skin dryness.
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