Keep Your Skin Healthy in the Winter

Healthy skin protects the body from exposure to viruses and bacteria, as well as the sun's damaging ultraviolet rays. But your skin could take a beating from mask wearing and cold weather, resulting in dermatitis--a rash that results from an allergic reaction--or conditions such as xerosis (dry skin) or eczema (itchy, dry, reddish patches or lesions on the skin), says Jonathan Zippin, MD, PhD, associate professor of dermatology.

Raising and lowering your mask throughout the day can irritate the skin around your mouth, nose, cheeks, and the bridge of your nose, leaving it dry and itchy. Plus, the fabric of your mask can cause an allergic reaction that makes your skin break out in a rash. “We are seeing a lot more mask-related dermatitis, as well as allergic-based reactions that might be linked to components of the masks themselves,” Dr. Zippin says.

Excessive handwashing, typical among healthcare workers, can cause dermatitis of the hands, Dr. Zippin adds. “It’s one of the primary behavioral and occupational things we’re seeing in terms of COVID-19 in the healthcare workforce,” he says.

Cold, dry weather can also leave skin dry, flaky, and itchy, as can certain environmental irritants. “We may send literature to supervisors and departments, advising them about the right soaps, gloves, and masks, so allergens are not an issue for employees,” he adds.

Protecting Your Skin

To protect your skin from mask irritation, cold weather, and sun exposure, the American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends:

  • Using mild, fragrance-free skincare products, including non-pore-clogging makeup.
  • Washing your face only twice a day and after sweating, while limiting the use of hot water and soap.
  • Moisturizing your skin daily, especially before and after wearing a mask, and after bathing. Applying thick cream or petroleum-jelly-type moisturizer directly to your damp skin will help trap surface moisture. Petroleum or cream-based moisturizers are better than lotions for normal to dry skin. If you have sensitive skin, choose a moisturizer without fragrance or lanolin.
  • Wearing layered masks made from soft, breathable fabric, like cotton.
  • Avoiding extreme cold and protecting against the wind by covering your face and using a petroleum-based lip balm.
  • Limiting sun exposure. Winter sun, like summer sun, can cause premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. Use a sunscreen with a sun-protection factor of 15 or greater if you plan to spend prolonged periods outdoors. Avoid tanning beds and artificial sunlamps, which damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer.
  • Seeing your dermatologist.  If you have persistent dry skin, scaling, itching, rashes, or skin growths that concern you — any time of the year.