Expert Advice: What to do about dry skin in winter
Steven Blatt, MD, advises on how to deal with dry skin in wintertime. Blatt is a pediatrician at the Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital.
Host Amber Smith: Here's some expert advice from Dr. Steven Blatt, from the department of pediatrics at Upstate Medical University. How do you advise people to deal with dry skin in the winter?
Steven Blatt, MD: At this time of year, one of the most common problems we see in children -- and I'm pretty sure in adults too, although I don't take care of adults -- is dry skin. During the summer, the air around us is so moist -- and we live in a, especially in Syracuse, in a moist environment -- we don't have dry skin. But during the winter and the cold weather months, a number of things happen.
Steven Blatt, MD: First, when the temperature drops, the air is able to hold less moisture. It's more dry. That's No. 1. Then we go inside our homes, we turn the heat on. The furnace dries out the air even more. If you live in a home or an apartment that has leaks in the doors and windows, there's more cold air coming in. The furnace is on more. It dries out even more. So we live in a very dry environment.
Steven Blatt, MD: And then one of the messages that healthcare professionals have been saying a lot over the past few years is "wash your hands to get rid of those germs, get rid of the bad viruses." And that actually dries our hands out even more. And right around this time of year, hands and arms and legs, they come in and they're getting dry. They're getting cracked, and very itchy. And when they itch, we scratch, and that damages the skin even more. So we are a perfect storm to have really bad skin in Syracuse during the winter.
Steven Blatt, MD: So what could people do? There's been a lot of controversy about bathing because we know that if you remember when you were a little kid and you would sit in the bath for an hour, your skin gets all crinkly because the oils come out. So we know bathing will actually dry your skin. But bathing is okay, as long as we moisturize as soon as we get out. You could put baby oil in the bathtub, and then when they get out, you want to put moisturizers on the same way you would put ketchup all over your hamburger. You want to slather it on and get your skin very moist and silky smooth. And you could do that many times a day, and it's a lot of moisturizer. So what I tell my patients is start off with the least expensive moisturizer you could find. If that doesn't work, try another one, and everybody likes something different.
Steven Blatt, MD: The next thing is when you get out of the bathtub or the shower, don't take a towel and rub it on you. That's like putting sandpaper on your skin. Just pat yourself dry, and that'll cause less damage. For people that have more involved dry skin, hydrocortisone cream, which is over the counter. Hydrocortisone either half percent or 1% is very safe to use once or twice a day, especially on the areas that are more dry.
Steven Blatt, MD: So the things that we want to do is moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. If that doesn't work, add a little bit of hydrocortisone. And then the last thing is when it's more than you can handle at home, go to the doctor quickly. It is much easier to take care of skin before it gets bad. Once it gets real cracked, and it could even bleed, then you need really high potency steroids. You're much better off going early on. This is a case where early treatment is the best treatment.
Host Amber Smith: You've been listening to Dr. Steven Blatt from the department of pediatrics at Upstate Medical University.