Save your skin

Dr Sumit Gupta

IN winters, both temperature and humidity drop drastically, causing dry conditions. This dryness can severely affect the outermost layer of the largest organ of the body, causing many skin problems. This extreme dryness can cause itching and rashes on the skin. 

This condition may be atopic dermatitis (or atopic eczema). This is a skin condition characterised by red, inflamed skin, which becomes very dry. Generally diagnosed in children, but it can occur in adults as well. During winters eczema flare-ups become common due to air being drier.

What is eczema

Eczema is a skin condition that causes a dry, scaly and itchy rash on different areas on the skin. It can cause so much itching that it can significantly impair affected person’s quality of life. The rash can spread to large areas of body although it typically starts from folds of skin (like neck, front of elbows, back of knees etc.)

Children are usually more susceptible to eczema. One in 10 kids is diagnosed with eczema. Many children outgrow it by their teenage years. However, 50 per cent of adults remain prone to it. Eczema usually does not develop in adulthood, but it’s possible.

The term ‘atopic’ relates to conditions that happen when someone is overly sensitive to allergens in the environment, such as pollen. “Dermatitis” describes inflammation of the skin.

Half of children affected with eczema are likely to have asthma or hay fever. There are many triggers that cause eczema flare-ups, though it can be passed genetically as well.

Winter woes

Eczema flare-ups occur more frequently or get worse in the winter. Dry air, long hot-water baths and indoor heating systems can dry out the skin, causing eczema flares up. Several layers of woollens or even using extra blankets can cause the flare-ups.

Preventive measures

1 Skip hot baths: Hot water dries skin. Use lukewarm water and limit bath time or opt for quick showers. Skip bubble baths altogether. You can add some moisturising product to the water. After bath, pat yourself dry and don’t rub skin with a towel.

2 Use a gentle soap: Those with skin disorder or sensitive skin should use moisturising and/or alcohol-free soaps. Avoid harsh laundry detergents. Use those meant for sensitive skin.

3 Opt for thick moisturiser: Those with dry skin need a great deal of moisturising. Apply thick body moisturisers, especially after bath. Petroleum jelly is a good option. Lotions may not be as effective. Moisturise your skin more than once daily.

4 Avoid contact with certain materials: Some fibres, like wool, nylon, etc. will irritate skin and cause skin problems. Besides, these generate heat causing flare-ups. Avoid too many layers and let the skin breathe. Opt for bed linens that are made of breathable materials similarly.

5 Use a humidifier: Heaters dry air and that can irritate eczema-prone skin. It is best to use a humidifier to combat dry heat and air. Regularly change the water in the humidifier and clean the machine every three days to avoid bacteria and fungi growth and to keep the air you’re breathing clean as well.

6 Drink plenty of water: Keeping your body hydrated, will also keep your skin hydrated and moisturised. Besides water, opt for green tea, soups, hot chocolate, etc.

Using these simple measures can help avoid dry skin during winters. 

Symptoms

  • Itching at night
  • Dry, scaly reddish to brown patches on the skin
  • Bumps that could leak fluid and scab over when scratched
  • Thick, cracked, parched and scaly skin
  • Raw and reactive skin

Other factors

  • Skin irritants n Infections 
  • Stress n Exposure to bound allergens, like dirt or pet dander

— The writer is a dermatologist, Skinnovation Clinics, New Delhi