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Dry, winter skin? Help is available

Dry, winter skin? Help is available
Your hands are dry, itchy and cracked.

You are not alone. And help is available.

Dry skin - eczema - is more prevalent during winter because of lower humidity levels in the air, Warren Lee, physician assistant-certified (PA-C), Dermatology, at Carle Champaign on Curtis, said.

“As a result of osmosis, areas of higher concentrations of water will naturally go to areas of lower concentrations,” meaning from the skin to the air, Lee said. “As a result, the integrity of the skin becomes compromised. Dryness, redness, scaling and irritation are all common signs of eczema. When nerve endings become exposed, itching, burning and irritation will ensue.”

For anyone who washes their hands often, dry skin can be particularly acute. That includes healthcare workers and people employed in long-term care and day care.

Hand hygiene is important to reduce the spread of infection. Frequent hand washing with soap and hand sanitizer can further dry the skin.

“One possible effect of frequent hand hygiene is dry, cracked skin,” Crystal Mattingly, medical laboratory scientist (MLS), master of public health (MPH), infection preventionist, Carle Foundation Hospital, said. This can be a challenge for anyone who is frequently using hand sanitizer and washing their hands to prevent the spread of infections.

“All the sanitizers, soaps, cleaners and glove-wearing are brutal to the skin,” Lee said.

Hand washing and hand sanitizer are vital in protection against infection, especially when influenza, COVID-19 and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) numbers are up.

The challenge is that dry, cracked skin can be a passageway for germs to enter the body, Mattingly said.

“There are other non-respiratory viruses and bacteria, which can spread and flourish due to compromised skin,” Lee said. “Verrucous lesion (warts), molluscum contagiosum (small dome-shaped papules, which spread rapidly), impetigo (red, irritated sores with honey-colored crusting) cellulitis (bright red and inflamed skin) are all examples of this.”

Even so, “Don’t let dry skin deter you from hand hygiene!” Mattingly said.

There are steps that everyone can take to maintain hand hygiene to reduce the spread of respiratory infection while addressing dry skin:

Drink water

“The skin moisturizes from the inside out,” Lee said.

Use a skin moisturizer

As often as possible during the day, after you wash your hands, use a skin moisturizer.

“You can protect yourself by ensuring moisturizer is part of your hand-hygiene plan,” Mattingly said.

“A good moisturizing lotion would be very helpful” in protecting the skin, Lee said. Lee recommends a lightweight, oil-free moisturizer that contains proteins called ceramides, which lock in moisture and help to restore the skin’s protective barrier.

See your healthcare provider

When drinking more water and using skin moisturizer doesn’t help, you may need to speak with your primary care physician.

“Typically, topical steroids, other non-traditional, anti-inflammatory topicals and barrier creams would be next,” Lee said.

Dry skin is common when taking recommended precautions to prevent respiratory illness with hand hygiene. With a bit of mindfulness, and a visit with your healthcare provider if your skin doesn’t improve, you can limit irritation and still be proactive about stopping the spread of disease.

For more information on Carle Dermatology, click here.

Categories: Staying Healthy

Tags: dermatology, eczema, infection, skin, winter