Winter Skin and Foot Care: What Hides Beneath?


Dr. ArnoldBy
Roy M. Arnold MD

During the winter we tend to wear more clothing and often neglect our skin and feet. Cold, dry air and confined clothing can take a toll on our skin and nails. Here are a few tips to keep your skin in tip-top shape all through the cold winter months.

First and foremost, it’s important to realize that our skin is more than just the covering of our body; it’s the largest organ in our body. If removed, most people’s skin would weigh about 20 pounds and cover an area of 20 square feet. The skin is responsible for protection, heat and moisture regulation, sensation and Vitamin D production.

One of the most common winter skin afflictions is dry skin leading to Winter Itch. Winter itch is a condition caused by dry air, cold and lack of moisture in the skin. The skin flakes off and becomes irritated causing the itch. Once the itching starts, irritation develops, causing more itching. The skin can become inflamed, red and even bleed. Here’s how to stop it according to Web MD. First, prepare your skin. Use a gentle exfoliant to remove dead skin cells. Scrub gently and dry thoroughly. Second, use a mild cleanser like Dove™ or Aveeno™ only on the areas that need it. Take warm showers or baths, not hot.

Third after bathing, apply a moisturizer while the skin is still moist, then towel off gently. Fourth, keep yourself hydrated. Insensible water loss in the winter can be just as high if not higher than in the summer when we perspire. Use a humidifier to keep your house between 40 and 50% humidity. Fifth, increase the good fats in your diet by increasing your intake of nuts, sunflower seeds and cold water fish like mackerel, herring or salmon. Increased Omega-3 oils will enable your skin to produce more natural oils.

If your skin continues to be dry, or becomes inflamed, it may be time to seek professional advice.

Winter is also colds and flu season and there is a temptation to use alcohol-containing hand sanitizers frequently. One word of advice – DON’T. Ethyl alcohol-containing hand sanitizers can be extremely drying to the skin and can quickly lead to chapped hands. It’s much better to wash your hands frequently, dry thoroughly and follow with a moisturizer. There are also alcohol-free moisturizing hand sanitizers available at most drugstores or supermarkets. You can find them in the skin care aisle.

Your feet can take an exceptional beating in the winter. Wearing socks constantly can irritate the feet and lead to dry, scaly soles and heels. Furthermore, getting the feet wet and not changing socks immediately can lead to softening and swelling of the skin called maceration. In its most extreme version this condition is called Trench foot or Immersion foot. The skin is swollen, cracked and can become secondarily infected with bacteria. This is a very dangerous condition and may even lead to ulcer formation and loss of toes.

In order to avoid this, change your socks at least daily, and whenever they become wet. Dry the feet thoroughly before donning dry socks. If the soles of the feet become dry and scaly apply a lanolin-containing ointment like Bag Balm®.

Fungal infection of the feet or toenails can develop during the winter, and when sandal weather arrives your toenails are yellow and ugly. You can buy antifungal creams at most drugstores, but here’s a less expensive way to keep your feet fungus-free. Vick’s Vaporub® has been shown to heal toenail fungus in open clinical trials. (J Am Board Fam Med. 2011 Jan-Feb;24(1):69-74) It’s important to realize that since toenails grow very slowly, it make take up to one year to completely clear the nails of fungus. Once the nails are clear, weekly applications ought to keep them clear.

My weekly foot care regimen consists of rubbing the toenails with Vick’s and my heels and soles with Bag Balm then donning socks. It has kept my toenails fungus free and my heels and soles soft for almost 15 years.

Hopefully these suggestions will enable you to keep your skin, toenails and feet healthy and itch-free throughout the cold weather. As always, please seek professional advice if home remedies fail to correct the problem. Stay warm and healthy!