February 12, 2007
In much of the nation, the heaters have been working
overtime this month. With the cold weather, low humidity,
and increased heater use, many people can see the damage
that has been done (or is being done) to their skin.
"The skin the largest organ of the body is made up of a
thin outer layer (called the epidermis) and a thicker outer
layer (called the dermis). Below the dermis is the
subcutaneous tissue, which contains fat. Buried in the skin
are nerves that sense cold, heat, pain, pressure, and
touch. Sebaceous glands secrete a lubricating substance
called sebum. Deep within the skin are your sweat glands,
which produce perspiration when you are too hot."
American Medical Association
(A detailed drawing that shows a cross section of the skin
is available at the above site.)
While dry skin may not seem like a big deal to some, it
could be argued that the one organ that it is the easiest
to see and monitor should also be the easiest to care for.
"Dry skin is common. It happens more often in the winter
when cold air outside and heated air inside cause low
humidity. Forced-air furnaces make skin even drier. The
skin loses moisture and may crack and peel, or become
irritated and inflamed. Bathing too frequently, especially
with harsh soaps, may contribute to dry skin. Eczema may
cause dry skin."
While not all dry skin is caused by eczema, eczema can
cause dry skin, and those with eczema may have a more
difficult time managing their condition during the dry
months of winter.
"Eczema is a general term for rash-like skin conditions.
The most common type of eczema is called atopic dermatitis,
which is an allergic reaction. Eczema is often very itchy
and when you scratch it, the skin becomes red and inflamed.
As many as 15 million people in the United States have some
form of eczema. It occurs in adults and children, but most
often appears on babies. You are more likely to have eczema
if you have a family history of the condition. Although the
exact cause is unknown, eczema is not contagious. Eczema
can't be cured, but it can be managed, and you can learn to
avoid the things that trigger it.
"The most common type of eczema is called atopic
"The word 'dermatitis' means inflammation of the skin.
'Atopic' refers to a group of diseases where there is often
an inherited tendency to develop other allergic conditions,
such as asthma and hay fever. In atopic dermatitis, the
skin becomes extremely itchy. ... In most cases, there are
periods of time when the disease is worse (called
exacerbations or flares) followed by periods when the skin
improves or clears up entirely (called remissions). As some
children with atopic dermatitis grow older, their skin
disease improves or disappears altogether, although their
skin often remains dry and easily irritated. In others,
atopic dermatitis continues to be a significant problem in
While those with eczema may see it flare during the winter
months, even those without the condition can find
themselves suffering from uncomfortably dry skin as the
humidity drops and the colder weather outside is paired
with increased heater usage.
"The low humidity common in many parts of the United States
during winter can cause dry, irritated skin. When skin
becomes dry and irritated, eczema can flare. Here are some
tips to help skin feel more comfortable during winter or
anytime the air is dry:
- Use a humidifier. With the heat on and the windows
closed, the air inside can become very dry in the winter,
making the dryness and itching of eczema even worse....
- Switch to an oil-based moisturizer and moisturize
- Before Going Outside in Winter:
* Apply a heavy layer of moisturizing broad-spectrum
sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher to the face, hands,
and any other skin that may be exposed....
* Grab those gloves. Protecting hands from the cold air and
low humidity plays an important role in preventing
- Dress in layers. The most common triggers of the
scratch/itch cycle are sweating and overheating....
- Shed wet clothes and shoes immediately. These can
irritate the skin and cause a flare-up."
When caring for the skin, don't forget that the lips are
covered in skin and can require special care.
"Lips may become chapped for a variety of reasons.
* Exposure to wind, sun, and cold, dry air
* Obstructed breathing, such as in allergic rhinitis, which
can force you to breathe through your mouth
* Contact dermatitis due to irritants or allergens in
cosmetics or skin-care products
* Certain medications, such as those used to treat acne
* A habit of frequently licking your lips
To treat or prevent chapped lips, consider these tips:
* Use an oil-based lubricating cream...
* Apply lip cream, balm or lipstick before going out in
cold, dry weather. ...
* Choose a lip cream or balm that contains sunscreen. Sun
exposure contributes to chapped lips.
* Avoid licking your lips. Saliva evaporates quickly,
leaving lips drier than before you licked them.
* Avoid using a flavored lip balm, which can tempt you to
lick your lips.
* Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Dehydration
can contribute to chapped lips.
* Use a humidifier at home to keep air moist.
If chapping is severe and self-care measures don't seem to
help, consult your doctor. Rarely, persistent chapped lips
may indicate an underlying problem, such as dermatitis."
Caring for the skin from the outside is helpful, but (as
mentioned previously with issues pertaining to hydration),
proper nutrition can help keep all of the body's organs at
"* Vitamin A...
Essential for: antioxidant properties, which help ... fight
and prevent infection; growth and repair of cells, tissues
and skin; relieving allergy symptoms
When lacking, can cause: dryness, itching and loss of skin
* B Complex Vitamins...
- Essential for: relieving dryness and itchiness...
When lacking, can cause: dry, flaky, sensitive skin; eye
* Vitamin C...
- Essential for: antioxidant properties; antihistamine
effects; fighting skin infections and healing wounds;
producing collagen and elastin for firm skin; healthy gums
and firm capillaries
When lacking, can cause: scurvy; loose teeth and swollen
gums; excess bleeding; wounds that won�t heal
* Vitamin E...
- Essential for: antioxidant properties; reducing risk of
disease; fighting free-radical damage...
* Sodium (salt)
- Essential for: regulating fluids and blood pressure
- Essential for: healing and overall skin health; working
with vitamin A to maintain and repair skin; providing
strength, elasticity and firmness to skin; promoting tissue
When lacking, can cause: reduced resistance to infection...
- Essential for: energy, fiber and B vitamins
- Essential for: energy and repair of body tissues and
* Fats (essential fatty acids linoleic acid and alpha
- Essential for: maintaining healthy, hydrated skin
When lacking: dry, scaly and flaky skin; hair loss
- Essential for: proper hydration of cells; regulating body
temperature; carrying nutrients to cells and wastes away
When lacking, can cause: dehydration"
(The above link includes good foods that can help people
incorporate the listed nutrients into their daily diets.)
Please note: Moderation is key. While having some a
necessary nutrient is beneficial, more is not always
better. Too much of a good thing can become unhealthy.
"Too much niacin, typically as a result of supplements, can
cause flushed skin, rashes and liver damage. ... Nearly
everyone gets enough salt. Large amounts of sodium are
found in highly processed foods (fast food, canned
products, frozen dinners). These foods should be eaten
infrequently, because an excess of sodium causes fluid
retention and swelling and may contribute to other health
Most dry skin can be treated at home, but, as with any
condition: If symptoms persist or worsen, be sure to see a
health care professional. Doctors and registered nurses can
offer further advice, and check to make sure that a more
serious problem does not exist.
Questions of the Week:
Why is it important for you, your peers, and those in your
family, to know about the proper care of dry skin? What can
you do to prevent dry skin? What can you do to heal
existing dry skin, and help prevent a recurrence? How does
the care of dry skin vary for people with differing needs
(for example: those of various ages or with other
pre-existing health conditions)? How could/ should this
affect how they care for their skin? What factors affect
how you care for your skin? What factors can/ should you
take into consideration that you may have previously
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions. Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum