Winter is coming!
NOTE: This article is a favorite that bears repeating! Enjoy and take note as we enter these cold days.
We all know winter is hard on our skin. Winter brings changes in weather, daylight, and dry air indoors and out. These factors make our skin feel uncomfortable and look scaly and tight. Winter requires more and heavier clothes, too. Extreme temperatures – cold outside and warm inside – plus dry air – called low ambient humidity – all add up to skin sensitivity and potential irritation. And dry, tight, itchy skin makes any day more difficult. I call those problems the winter skin blues!
Cancer compounds winter’s impact on our skin. Young or old, living with cancer or loving someone who is, the stresses of cancer can show up on our skin. Cancer medication side effects and other treatments all may leave a mark on skin among their other side effects.
Skin, the largest organ in our bodies, is essential to overall health. The demands of living with cancer, or caring for someone we love who is, make it easy to overlook skin health. That is, until problems with our skin makes it impossible to be comfortable! A few easy to follow tips make preventing many skin problems something we all can manage.
Try these tips for healthier, more comfortable skin and fewer skin problems this winter:
- Shower just once a day for as short a time as possible with warm not hot water. And ask for help bathing if problems moving make it hard to take shorter showers.
- Avoid soaking in a hot bath unless your nurse or physician recommend them. Baths – especially hot ones – remove more of the oils that our skin makes to protect itself. Less protective oil means much drier skin and dry skin is sensitive skin.
- Use unscented soap intended for people with sensitive skin. Brands like Dove and Camay are less irritating than many other brands. Brands like Ivory and Dial may be very irritating so avoid using those products.
- Avoid rubbing your skin with your towel and instead pat yourself dry. Apply unscented body lotion immediately after toweling off. Brands to look for include Eucerin and Cerave and their store brand equivalents. Reapply lotion during the day and before bedtime to help keep your skin comfortable.
- E-45, a pharmacy brand from England, gets rave reviews from nurses and physicians for their body washes, lotions, and creams all made for people with dry and sensitive skin. Many British cancer centers use E-45 products too. E-45 products are often available on com .
- Remember that you need sunscreen even in winter! Use sunscreens with physical blocks like titanium and zinc oxide and avoid chemical agents like oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone. Cover all exposed skin – face, neck, ears, and hands mostly – before even short periods outside.
- Not sure what products you should use on your skin? Ask your pharmacist to point out soap or body wash, lotion, and other products suitable for sensitive skin. They’ll be glad to offer advice and guide you to affordable options.
- Layer your clothes and choose light, soft fabrics. Wool is often irritating for many and is best to avoid. Some synthetic fabrics – like polyester and acetate – are irritating even though they feel soft. Their slippery smooth texture might catch on dry, scaly skin. Try clothes made with cotton fabrics, especially those that are brushed for softness like the inside of a sweatshirt.
- Consider using a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home. Be sure to keep the humidifier clean, though, to limit health risks. Avoid making your home really warm as hot air makes skin as well as the inside of our noses feel drier. Instead, remember to layer clothes indoors as well as outside.
With those skin care tips in hand, you can take more time to enjoy winter. A quiet snowfall, a brisk walk, and a cozy day inside doing something you love are among the joys of wintertime. No need to let winter skin blues get in the way!
We are grateful to Sarah Kagan for writing this article!
Sarah H. Kagan PhD, RN
Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist