Dry skin can be worsened by low humidity, operation of heaters in the winter, bathing more than once a day, and over-use of soap. Hot water and soaps can remove essential oils from the skin, which leads to dryness and itching. Dry skin or irritation also aggravates many skin conditions. Small changes in how you cleanse your skin can improve your symptoms and skin condition.
Healthy skin serves as a protective barrier to hold in moisture and protect against common irritants found all around us. In atopic dermatitis (eczema), the top layer of skin is unable to hold moisture, hence dries and cracks, and upsetting this normal protective barrier. Water evaporates more rapidly with low humidity. During the winter months when we spend most of our time in dry, heated air, eczema often occurs or worsens. The protective barrier can be restored, however, by applying water to the skin (bathing or showering) and then trapping it in with a moisturizer.
In addition, cleansing your skin should remove dirt without upsetting the skin’s protective layers or the natural pH balance. Everyday soaps and cleansers are frequently harsh. The result is unnecessary drying and irritation, which can be prevented if you follow these tips:
- Try to bathe in the coolest water possible (lukewarm water is preferable).
- Avoid over-bathing (more than once daily).
- Use a mild, non-soap, cleanser such as Cetaphil or Aveeno sparingly. Also, soaps such as Dove, Oil of Olay, and Purpose have added moisturizers. Ivory, Irish Spring, and deodorant soaps tend to be drying. Do not use bubble baths or other fragranced products.
- Pat dry after bathing. Apply any medications to red or itchy areas.
- Within 2 minutes while the skin is still damp, apply a cream based, fragrance-free moisturizer (this traps moisture in the skin). Creams usually come in jars and include Eucerin, Cetaphil creams, petrolatum jelly, and medical grade Theraplex (available in our office). Lotions tend to contain more alcohol (which is drying) but some good lotions include Cetaphil, Aveeno Restoraderm and Aveeno Eczema therapy. Dimethicone in creams and lotions is an effective active ingredient against drying.
- Try to lower the temperature in the house, and use a humidifier.
- Rubbing and scratching both worsen itching.
- Avoid perfumes, cologne, fragranced sprays and powders, baby products
- Use an unscented laundry detergent and softener (All Free, Cheer-free, Tide Free, no bleach Bounce Free)
Your skin should begin to improve and heal over the next 3-4 weeks. If not, Dr. Darst may suggest prescriptions creams, antihistamines (an oral medication that helps with the itching, which is best taken at bedtime when they can cause drowsiness) and/or an antibiotic if your skin appears infected. Be sure to follow the specific directions for these products are directed by Dr. Darst.