Itchy Dry Skin In Winter - How To Prevent

Posted by Dr. Natasha Ryz on

Itchy dry skin in winter is frustrating and painful.

Itchy dry skin in winter is caused by dry skin and skin barrier disruption.

How to prevent dry itchy skin?

This article will discuss:

    • What is winter dry skin?
    • What is itch or pruritus?
    • What causes dry skin to itch?
    • How to treat dry itchy skin
    • Tips for preventing dry itchy skin
    • How to protect your skin barrier
    • 10 things to try for dry itchy skin in winter
      • Summary
      • References

      Itchy Skin In Winter - How To Treat Dry Skin Itch

      What is winter dry skin?

      'Winter dry skin' is dry skin that develops during the cold winter season.

      Exposure to winter weather can weaken your skin barrier and its protective functions.

      Winter dry skin can have a wide spectrum of symptoms - from mild dryness and flaking to severe itching, redness and pain.

      Symptoms of winter dry skin include:

      • Loss of skin elasticity
      • Skin feels tight, dehydrated
      • Skin appears dull, rough and blotchy
      • Slight to severe flaking, scaling or peeling
      • Fine lines and wrinkles are more pronounced
      • May have irritation and a burning sensation
      • Mild to severe itching

      Itchy Skin In Winter - How To Treat Dry Skin Itch

      What is itch or pruritus?

      Itch, also known as pruritus, is an unpleasant skin sensation, which induces an impulse to scratch (Stephen et al, 1941; Ikoma et al, 2013).

      The sensation of itch is caused by itch-inducing substances, called pruritogens, that bind to receptors in your skin, resulting in the perception of itch (Kamo et al, 2017).

      What causes dry skin to itch?

      The main cause of dry skin induced itch is thought to be due to a decline in skin barrier function (Kamo et al, 2017).

      Histamine is one of the major itch mediators, but studies show histamine-dependent and histamine-independent pathways in transmitting itch (Toyama et al, 2022).

      Because histamine is a well-known pruritogen, antihistamines are the first line of treatment against itch.

      However, antihistamines are not fully effective in some dermatological conditions, such as xerosis, atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

      Therefore, dry skin is thought to be an important feature of antihistamine-resistant (histamine-independent) itch (Kamo et al, 2017).

      Itch sensation is usually increased at night due to higher skin temperature, heat under the blanket, circadian rhythms of neuropeptides and cytokines, and fewer distractive thoughts (Patel et al, 2007; Lavery et al, 2016).

      Itchy Skin In Winter - How To Treat Dry Skin Itch

      How to treat dry itchy skin?

      Dry itchy skin can be complex, and difficult to treat.

      Dry itchy skin in winter is often relieved with the use of moisturizers, emollients, and some lifestyle modifications, such as using a humidifier, avoiding harsh cleansers, and supplementing the diet with essential fatty acids. 

      In addition, nutrient-rich oils, balms and barrier creams are required to improve dry skin and protect against further damage.

      Active ingredients, including vitamins, humectants, lipids and fatty acids can help repair the skin barrier, calm redness, and sooth irritation and itch.

      Treatment options for dry itchy skin include a combination of emollients and moisturizers, fatty acids, zinc oxide, colloidal oatmeal, cannabinoids, peppermint oil and menthol, capsaicin and UV therapy (Weisshaar et al, 2019).

      Some people with dry itchy skin may also require medications to control symptoms, including antimicrobial agents, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory agents, anesthetics, immunotherapy, biologicals, and others (Weisshaar et al, 2019).

      No treatments can claim consistent or complete efficacy, and often a combination of treatments is required (Weisshaar et al, 2019).

      Talk to your doctor about treatments for dry itchy skin in winter.

      Itchy Skin In Winter - How To Treat Dry Skin Itch

      Tips for preventing dry itchy skin

      General tips for preventing dry itchy skin in winter include:

        • Use a skin moisturizer daily, especially after showering and bathing
        • Use a mild cleanser, low pH soaps and syndets
        • Try a luke-warm water, bath (max 20 min), possibly adding colloidal oatmeal, dabbing the skin dry after bathing
        • Avoid frequent washing and bathing
        • Avoid chlorine exposure in pools and hot tubs
        • Wear soft, lightweight clothing such as silk, linen, and muslin
        • Avoid irritating fabrics like flannel and wool, which can exacerbate symptoms of winter itch
        • Dress in layers to avoid sweating
        • Keep room temperature cool at night while you sleep
        • Avoid contact with allergenic and irritant substances (e.g., certain fragrances, preservatives and surfactants)
        • Keep fingernails short and trimmed

      (Adapted from Weisshaar et al, 2019).

      Itchy Skin In Winter - How To Treat Dry Skin Itch

      Protect your skin barrier

      To treat dry itchy skin in winter, you must protect your skin barrier, including your moisture barrier, lipid barrier and acid mantle.

      What is the skin barrier?

      Your skin barrier includes the outermost layers of skin, called the stratum corneum.

      The skin barrier can be thought of as a brick wall that protects you.

      When your skin barrier is healthy, it feels and appears smooth, soft, and plump.

      In contrast, a damaged skin barrier looks dry, rough, dull, and dehydrated, and may become irritated, inflamed and itchy.

      The skin barrier includes:

      • The moisture barrier
      • The lipid barrier
      • The acid mantle

        Learn More: What is The Skin Barrier

          Itchy Skin In Winter - How To Treat Dry Skin Itch

          Protect your skin's moisture barrier

          The moisture barrier is a part of your skin barrier. 

          The skin moisture barrier ensures your skin is hydrated by trapping and holding water into your skin.

          The skin moisture barrier is composed of water, natural moisturizing factors (NMFs) and other humectants, such as glycerol and hyaluronic acid to attract and hold onto moisture.

          There are several ways to protect your moisture barrier:

          1. Drink water
          2. Use a humidifier
          3. Use a moisturizer with humectants
          4. Limit exposure to cold weather
          5. Protect your skin from the elements

          Learn more: How To Protect Your Skin's Moisture Barrier

          Itchy Skin In Winter - How To Treat Dry Skin Itch

          Protect your skin's lipid barrier

          The lipid barrier is a part of your skin barrier. 

          The surface of your skin is covered by a layer of protective lipids (fats), including epidermal lipids and sebum.

          Epidermal lipids are released from keratinocytes (skin cells), and are a mixture of ceramides, free fatty acids and cholesterol. These lipids are released from skin cells and fill the spaces between the cells, like mortar or cement (Pappas, 2007).

          There are several ingredients that can protect your lipid barrier:

          1. Emollients
          2. Carrier Oils - such as virgin coconut oil
          3. Linoleic acid - found in apple seed oil
          4. Occlusives - such as jojoba oil

            Learn more: How To Protect Your Skin's Lipid Barrier

            Itchy Skin In Winter - How To Treat Dry Skin Itch

            Protect your skin's acid mantle

            Many factors can affect the pH of the skin, including aging, sebum, sweat, detergents, cosmetics, and irritation.

            Soaps and cleansers that are high in pH should be avoided, as high pH soaps can irritate and disrupt the skin barrier.

            How to protect your skin's acid mantle:

            • Avoid high pH soaps
            • Use a gentle cleanser
            • Try an oil cleanser

            A proper skin pH is important to maintain healthy skin.

            Learn more: How To Protect Your Skin's Acid Mantle

            Itchy Skin In Winter - How To Treat Dry Skin Itch

            Things to try for dry itchy skin

            There are several treatment options for dry itchy skin in winter:

                1. Emollients for itch relief
                2. Omega 3 fatty acids for itch relief
                3. Cannabis for itch relief
                4. Glycerol for itch relief
                5. Urea for itch relief
                6. Colloidal oatmeal for itch relief
                7. Zinc oxide for itch relief
                8. Cold exposure for itch relief
                9. Peppermint and menthol for itch relief
                10. Vinegar for itch relief

              Talk to your doctor about treatments for dry itchy skin in winter.

              Learn more: 10 Treatments for Dry Itchy Skin in Winter

              Itchy Skin In Winter - How To Treat Dry Skin Itch


              Dry itchy skin is common during the cold winter months.

              Dry itchy skin is often prevented with the use of moisturizers, and some lifestyle modifications, such as using a humidifier, avoiding harsh cleansers, and supplementing the diet with essential fatty acids.

              Dry itchy skin can be complex, and difficult to treat.

              In order to prevent dry itchy skin in winter, you must protect your skin barrier, including the moisture barrier, lipid barrier and acid mantle.

              How to prevent dry itchy skin in winter?

                • Protect your moisture barrier:
                  • Drink water
                  • Use a humidifier
                  • Use a moisturizer with humectants
                • Protect your lipid barrier:
                  • Emollients to strengthen skin barrier
                  • Topical linoleic acid 
                  • Supplement with omega 3 fatty acids
                    • 1200 mg/d EPA + DHA to 18 000 mg/d EPA + DHA
                • Protect your acid mantle:
                  • Avoid high pH soaps
                  • Choose a gentle cleanser

              If you have dry itchy skin, you may require a dermatologist’s help, and they can prescribe medications to help with itching, redness and pain.

              Dry Skin Love Nourishing Coconut is a luxurious face oil made with 9 premium ingredients, including cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil, jojoba oil and gentle vitamin C ester tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate.

              It is rich in emollients and linoleic acid and can nourish your dry skin.

              Our Nourishing Coconut 5% Vitamin C Face Oil will transform your dry skin into soft and nourished skin.


              Best Face Oils for Dry Skin


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              Author Information

              Dr. Natasha Ryz, Scientist and Founder of Dry Skin Love Skincare

              Dr. Natasha Ryz is a scientist, skin care expert and an entrepreneur. She is the founder of Dry Skin Love Skincare, and she creates skincare products for beauty, dry skin and pain relief.

              Dr. Ryz has a PhD in Experimental Medicine from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and she is a Vanier scholar. She also holds a Master of Science degree and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

              Natasha is the former Chief Science Officer of Zenabis Global, and she oversaw cannabis extraction, analytics, and product development. Her team brought 20 products to market including oils, sprays, vapes and softgels.

              Why I Started A Skincare Company

              Twitter: @tashryz
              Instagram: @tash.ryz
              LinkedIn: @natasharyz

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