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Cold weather can take a toll on your body. As temperatures drop, so does the moisture content in your skin. This can lead to a winter rash. A winter rash is an area of irritated skin. It’s most often caused by dry skin. Even if you have healthy skin the rest of the year, you may develop a winter rash during cold seasons. The condition is common and often recurs year after year. Most people who live in cold climates have experienced it at least once.
Without treatment and lifestyle changes, your rash may last throughout winter. Fortunately, there are ways to keep your skin healthy and moisturized year-round.
A winter rash may include any of the following symptoms:
The rash may impact a single area of your body, often your legs, arms, or hands. In other cases, it may be widespread on your body.
Anyone can get a winter rash, but some people are more prone than others. You’re more likely to develop a winter rash if you have a history of:
- sensitive skin
Spending a lot of time outdoors may also raise your risk of developing a winter rash.
Your skin’s outer layer contains natural oils and dead skin cells that hold water inside your skin. This helps keep your skin soft, moisturized, and smooth.
Bitter cold temperatures can affect the condition of your skin. Cold air, low humidity, and high winds outdoors strip your skin of much-needed moisture. Turning up the heat and taking hot showers indoors do the same. These harsh conditions cause your skin to lose its natural oils. This allows moisture to escape, leading to dry skin and potentially a winter rash.
Other possible causes of a winter rash include:
- sensitivity to antibacterial
soaps, deodorizing soaps, detergents, or other chemicals
- skin conditions,
such as psoriasis or eczema
- a bacterial
- a viral infection
- a latex allergy
Sunburns can also lead to a winter rash. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can be potent, even in winter. In fact, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation, snow reflects up to 80 percent of UV light, which means can be hit by the same rays twice. UV rays are also more intense at higher altitudes. This is important to remember if you enjoy snowboarding, skiing, or other alpine sports.
Your doctor can often diagnose a winter rash during a physical exam. They’ll review your symptoms and medical history to help determine the cause of your rash and prescribe treatment.
If you haven’t changed your soap or exposed your skin to chemicals recently, chances are your rash is due to dry skin. If you’re moisturizing your skin regularly and limiting your exposure to extreme cold or hot temperatures, something else may be causing your rash. It’s possible you’re experiencing an allergic reaction to a personal care product or medication. You may also have an infection or skin condition, such as eczema, psoriasis, or dermatitis.
Most treatments for a winter rash are inexpensive and don’t require a prescription. For example:
- Moisturizers are often
the first defense against a winter rash because they help lock moisture into
your skin. Apply moisturizer several times a day, especially after bathing and hand
- Petroleum jelly also
acts as a barrier to help seal moisture into your skin. If you don’t like the
idea of using petroleum products, consider trying petroleum substitutes, such
as Waxelene or Un-Petroleum, which also prevent moisture loss.
- Natural oils,
such as olive oil and coconut oil, may help soothe your irritated skin and
replenish moisture. Apply to your skin as needed.
shortening is another popular folk remedy for dry skin because its solid oil
content helps restore moisture. Try slathering it on after bathing or before
- Bathing with milk
may help soothe your itchy skin. Dip a clean washcloth into whole milk and dab it
on the affected area of your body, or soak in a warm bath with milk added for
about 10 minutes.
- Oatmeal soap and
baths may also help soothe your skin. Purchase soap made with oatmeal, or add
finely ground oats to a warm bath, and soak in it for about 10 minutes.
- Topical cortisone
creams, which are available with or without a prescription, may help reduce your
skin’s redness, itching, and inflammation. Follow the manufacturer’s directions
or use as directed by your doctor.
Most winter rashes improve with lifestyle changes, home remedies, and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments. Others may persist or get worse. Scratching may cause your skin to crack and bleed. This gives bacteria the perfect opening and puts you at risk of infection.
Contact your doctor if you have a rash that isn’t responding to OTC treatments, is bleeding, or has severe symptoms.
The best way to prevent winter rash is to avoid cold climates and dry air entirely. Try these prevention tips if you don’t spend your winter in a warm climate:
- Invest in a
humidifier to add moisture to the air around you. Whole-house, single-room, and
personal humidifiers are available. Find a great selection on Amazon.com.
- Bathe less often,
lather up at little as possible, and avoid hot water. Consider bathing every
other day during the winter, when your body may not sweat as much or get as
- Use natural,
fragrance-free soaps made from glycerin, goat milk, shea butter, or olive oil.
- Wear clothes made
from breathable natural fibers, such as cotton and hemp, to help reduce skin
irritation and overheating.
- Protect your
hands by wearing gloves every time you go outside in cold weather. You should
also wear protective gloves when you wash dishes, immerse your hands in water
for an extended period, or clean with chemical products.
- Prevent winter
sunburns by wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher
when you spend time outdoors.
Limit the time you spend in front of fires, which decrease humidity and expose your skin to intense heat.
Taking preventive steps and applying moisturizer at the first sign of dry skin, can help you reduce your risk of a winter rash.
Some winter rashes are just a nuisance. Other rashes are more serious and require medical treatment. Contact your doctor if your rash doesn’t improve despite home treatment or you have other concerns about your rash.