It turns out, icy roads and snowy sidewalks aren’t the only side effects of arctic storms. Many people will develop skin rashes this time of year, and these rashes can be dry and itchy and your skin can appear red, swollen or flaky. Bumps or blisters may form in the affected area. Winter rash, a condition caused when sensitive skin reacts to extreme temperatures, is another way wild weather can ruin your day. People can take these steps to avoid developing a winter rash. Find out how to identify, treat and prevent this condition from a board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Rachel Anolik.
Different types of rashes:
Typically, winter rash is caused by a chronic condition or allergy flaring in response to sudden changes in the environment – like walking out of a 72-degree house into a 23-degree snowstorm then settling into a 65-degree car.
Eczema: Changing temperatures and dry air cause eczema to flare. When temperatures take massive nosedives, and the heaters are turned on full-blast, things can get itchy real quick.
Rosacea: Wind and cold are the archenemies of rosacea-prone skin. Both can trigger a pretty significant flare on their own. However, the scarf you’re using to block the elements may be leaving you red-in-the-face, too. Rough fabrics like wool can cause irritation and inflammation, also.
Cold urticaria (hives): Patients with cold urticaria develop red welts or a raised, itchy rash that appears immediately after exposure to the cold. Patients with more severe forms of the disorder may feel faint or have difficulty breathing when exposed to freezing temperatures.
Dermatitis: This refers to any inflammation of the skin. Dermatitis causes dry, itchy patches to form. It may result from poor circulation or exposure to harsh chemicals, an allergen or an infection.
Psoriasis: Cold, dry weather can trigger psoriasis flares. Other triggers include stress, smoking and certain infections.
The causes of winter rash:
Your skin has a protective outer layer of natural oils and dead skin cells, which help keep your skin soft, smooth and moisturized. Cold temperatures, low humidity and high winds strip this protective layer from your skin while you’re outdoors, and it doesn’t get any better when you come inside. Turning up the heat and taking hot showers prevent your skin from recovering. With all of these factors combined, skin tends to be itchy, dry and irritated in the winter. Dry-skin rashes can appear on the face and body for several reasons. Some of the most common causes of winter rashes include:
Dry skin: Cold and dry air, along with cold winter wind, can remove the natural oils from your skin. This can cause your skin to lose moisture and dry out, leading to a rash. These rashes can be especially dry on areas that are often exposed to the cold, such as your face and hands.
Skin conditions: If you have a skin condition like eczema, psoriasis or rosacea, cold winter air can make it worse. Be sure to talk to your dermatologist about adjusting your treatment if cold air triggers your rashes.
Sunburn: The sun’s UV rays can still damage your skin in the winter leading to red rashes on exposed areas. This is especially true if you have fair skin.
Sensitivities: Sensitivities to soaps, lotions and detergents can cause rashes on your skin in any weather, but the cold winter air can make this irritation worse. A dermatologist can help you pinpoint which products might be causing problems.
Infections: A bacterial or viral infection can cause a rash on the skin. Look for other symptoms like sores, pus, worsening pain and a fever.
Stress: Stress and fatigue can be triggers for winter rashes, especially if you have a skin condition like eczema and psoriasis.
Keep in mind that there are many types of rashes, and winter rashes may not always have a clear cause. It’s important to see a dermatologist to discuss your symptoms and receive an accurate diagnosis.
How to treat winter rash
Restoring your natural moisture barrier and blocking out the cold are essential to stopping winter rashes for good. Most treatment options are mild and can be implemented at home. Here’s what we recommend trying:
Apply lotion frequently. A thick cream is preferable this time of year. With added oils, these products are healing and moisturizing.
Take short, warm showers – not long hot showers. While the temptation to defrost is intense, high temperatures and prolonged exposure to water will further irritate sensitive skin.
Bundle up. Mittens, gloves, face masks, scarves and puffy coats will protect skin from the elements. However, you may wish to avoid direct contact between rashes and wool. While wool is excellent at keeping in heat, it’s also very irritating to already damaged skin.
Get steamy with a humidifier. Central heating dries out the air. Dry air leads to dry skin. Dry skin is itchy skin. It’s a good idea to have one in the rooms where you spend most of your time, like your home office and bedroom.
Talk to an online dermatologist. In the interest of limiting your exposure to bad weather (and the convenience of getting help from your phone), log in to DermatologistOnCall and consult a doctor about your seasonal skin problem. This is especially true if you can’t seem to stop scratching.
Tips and tricks to prevent winter rash:
Adjusting skin care and lifestyle habits can help prevent winter rash. No one wants to deal with winter rash, so help prevent it with these tips:
• Run a humidifier in your house, especially while you sleep.
• Switch to showering every other day, and use lukewarm water.
• Stick to natural, fragrance-free soap.
• Wear a hat, scarf, gloves and other protective clothing.
• Wear sunscreen when spending a prolonged period outside.
• Using non-foaming cleansers and body washes
• Moisturizing multiple times a day, especially after taking a bath or a shower
• Not taking extremely hot showers or baths
• Applying sunscreen to the face and neck
• Using serums or oils that contain antioxidants to reduce inflammation
• Avoiding skin care products that contain harsh chemicals, alcohols and fragrances
When to seek help from your local dermatologist:
Whether your rash is the result of cold weather, stress or another trigger, Dermatology Partners – Lexington Park is here to help. Some winter rashes can be treated with simple adjustments, but others should be checked out by your local dermatologist at Dermatology Partners – Lexington Park, located at 8001 Roosevelt Blvd., Suite 307. If your winter rash persists or becomes worse, give Dermatology Partners – Lexington Park a call at 267-731-1333 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Rachel Anolik or schedule online at www.dermpartners.com.
Dermatology Partners is a physician-led dermatology group with locations throughout Pennsylvania and Delaware. Its providers treat a full spectrum of diseases of the skin, hair and nails and specialize in the detection and treatment of skin cancers, including Mohs surgery. The organization prides itself on its ability to offer patients immediate appointments so there is no need to wait weeks or months to receive care.
Dermatology Partners has 28 offices in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Dermatology Partners specializes in the detection and treatment of skin cancers and treats a full spectrum of diseases of the skin, hair and nails. To find out more about Dermatology Partners, or to book an appointment at one of their locations, visit www.dermpartners.com or call 888-895-3376.