How To Deal with Dry Skin in Winter, 8 Pro Tips for Caregivers

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Thu Jan 04 2024.

Applying lotion.

The change of seasons can be expected four times a year, but it always presents unique caregiving challenges. Case in point: dry winter skin. The cooler temperatures and dry air common from December to March can irritate anyone’s skin, but older adults are especially vulnerable. 

You might not be able to prevent dry skin altogether, but there’s plenty you can do at home to keep your loved one’s skin healthy and moisturized all season long. To learn more, we connected with Hannah Kopelman, MD. Dr. Kopelman is a dermatology resident and the host of the weekly dermatology podcast Derm Club. Here, we highlight some of her top tips for keeping dry winter skin at bay. 

Why Is Dry Skin More Common During the Winter?

Dr. Kopelman says several factors contribute to dry skin during the winter. Specifically, “the combination of cold, dry air outside and heated air inside, creates a low-humidity environment. This causes the skin to lose its moisture more rapidly than in other seasons…similar to how a sponge dries out faster in a dry environment.” 

Dr. Kopelman says that harsh winter winds and indoor heating systems also strip away the skin’s protective barrier. “The skin’s barrier function, which retains moisture and protects against external irritants, becomes compromised in these conditions,” she explains. “Leading to increased sensitivity and dryness.”

8 Simple Tips for Stopping Dry, Itchy Skin in Cold Weather

You can’t control the weather or humidity levels, but you can take steps to make your home as skin-friendly as possible. Here are a few simple suggestions for getting started:

1) Stay Hydrated

All adults are encouraged to drink water. The recommended amount varies depending on who you ask, but a general rule of thumb is to consume at least 8, 8-ounce glasses of water daily. “Drinking enough water is essential for overall health, including skin health,” Dr. Kopelman says. “Proper hydration helps the body function efficiently and aids in maintaining the skin’s elasticity and suppleness.”  

Though effective, Dr. Kopelman says internal hydration isn’t always able to combat external factors that cause dry skin in the winter, “such as cold weather, low humidity, and hot showers.” Likewise, people with incontinence often need to monitor their water consumption to reduce the risks of accidents. “Thus, while staying hydrated is a piece of the puzzle, it should be complemented with external skin care measures.” 

2) Keep Bathtime Short

Sitting in a hot bath or taking a long shower is relaxing, but during the winter, these activities can negatively affect your skin. Whenever possible, “limit shower or bath time to 10 minutes and use lukewarm water instead of hot water,” Dr. Kopelman says. Hot water feels soothing, but it does more harm than good, as it “strips the oils from the skin” which help retain moisture. 

3) Apply Lotion Immediately After Bathing

Many family caregivers assist their loved ones with showering and bathing. You probably have this routine down to a T, but during the winter, consider adding another step –– applying lotion or moisturizing cream to your loved one’s skin. This one activity can make a huge difference in their comfort and quality of life. 

Lotions and moisturizers can support the skin at any time, but they tend to be more effective when applied after bathing. That’s because “after a shower or bath, the skin is more porous and has higher moisture content,” Dr. Kopelman explains. “Applying lotion at this time helps to lock in this moisture.” Similarly, “moisturizers create a protective barrier over the skin, preventing water loss and supporting the skin’s natural barrier.”

For the best results, Dr. Kopelman says to gently pat your loved one’s skin dry and apply the lotion or moisturizer while it’s still damp to “maximize absorption and hydration.” 

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4) Use a Humidifier 

Many people associate humidifiers with illness. For example, you may have heard that using a humidifier can help break up congestion if you have a cold or the flu. But Dr. Kopelman says they can be just as valuable for managing dry skin in winter. 

“By adding moisture to the air, humidifiers help mitigate the drying effect of indoor heating. This added humidity can help the skin retain its natural moisture, reducing the likelihood of dryness and irritation.” Some homes have humidifiers built-in to the central heating, but this isn’t very common. To maximize the benefits, Dr. Kopelman says to “use a humidifier in rooms where you spend the most time, like the bedroom.” 

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5) Regularly Change Your Loved One’s Incontinence Products

Routine changes are essential if your loved one has urinary or fecal incontinence. After all, keeping the buttocks and genital area clean reduces skin irritation and prevents the build-up of microorganisms like fungi and bacteria. 

“Incontinence can pose a significant challenge to maintaining skin health, particularly in the winter,” Dr. Kopelman says. Since most people wear more layers during the winter, changing incontinence products can be a hassle. But if you wait any longer than usual, the risk of skin problems goes through the roof. “The key is to prevent prolonged exposure to moisture, which can lead to skin breakdown and irritation.”

The easiest way to prevent diaper rash and other similar skin problems is to be very thorough during changes. Dr. Kopelman says that after removing a soiled diaper or booster pad, gently clean your loved one’s skin and make sure it's completely dry before applying a new product. You may also want to consider applying a barrier cream or skin-protecting ointment. “Barrier creams or ointments are very beneficial as they protect the skin from the irritating effects of urine and feces,” Dr. Kopelman adds. “It’s also advisable to use gentle, non-irritating cleansers and avoid products with fragrances or alcohol which can exacerbate skin irritation.” 

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6) Wear Soft, Non-Irritating  Fabrics

If your loved one gets dry, itchy skin each winter their wardrobe may be partially to blame. Fabrics like polyester and wool are warm and woven into many types of winter clothing, but they also tend to irritate the skin. As a result, Dr. Kopelman recommends wearing soft, non-irritating fabrics, such as cotton, linen, and flannel. It may take some trial and error to find a material that meets your loved one’s needs. Don’t be afraid to try several different fabrics before making a final decision. 

7) Eat a Healthy Diet, Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats found in fish, seafood, nuts, and seeds. They play an essential role in various bodily functions and support the health of the heart, eyes, and brain. Omega-3 fatty acids can also support dry skin. Dr. Kopelman says they “fortify the skin’s natural oil-retaining barriers” and prevent moisture loss. Another bonus? Eating omega-3s is thought to reduce skin damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays, one of the most common causes of wrinkles and fine lines. 

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8) Bundle Up When Going Outside

Activities like walking and bird watching are easy ways to get some exercise and fresh air during the winter, but lengthy exposure to harsh winds and biting temperatures takes a toll on your skin. Taking a few common sense precautions makes all the difference. “When going out in cold weather, cover your skin with gloves and scarves to protect it from harsh conditions,” Dr. Kopelman says. Alternatively, if you live someplace warm, like Phoenix or Orlando, apply sunscreen every few hours to prevent sun damage. 

Carewell Makes Winter Skincare Easy!

There’s a lot to think about as a family caregiver, including winter skin protection. Even though most cases of dry skin improve on their own, if your loved one has sensitive skin or incontinence, determining the best treatment approach can be challenging. 

Our friendly Care Team regularly works with family caregivers to manage common skin problems, such as dry skin, diaper rashes, and chafing. Need help selecting a product? Get in touch. Call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to support@carewell.com.

How To Treat Dry Itchy Skin - Commonly Asked Questions

1) What are the best lotions and moisturizers for dry skin?

This is one of the most common questions our Care Team receives, especially during the winter months! Our product guide, Carewell's Best Lotions and Moisturizers for Dry Winter Skin, Rashes, and Chapped Lips, highlights 8 of our best-selling and top-rated skin care products. 

2) Are older adults more likely to experience dry skin?

Yes. Studies have found that up to 55% of older adults suffer from xerosis or chronic dry skin. Lifestyle factors, like taking hot showers and not drinking enough water can make these symptoms worse, but the dry skin itself is often caused by age-related changes. Over time, the skin produces less oil and loses its ability to effectively retain moisture.  

3) Can I run a humidifier all night if I have dry skin?

It’s safe to run a humidifier while you’re sleeping, but monitoring humidity levels is essential. The EPA recommends keeping indoor humidity levels at 60% or below to prevent the growth of mold and other potentially harmful microorganisms. Likewise, you should clean your humidifier regularly so it doesn’t emit harmful molecules into the air.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.