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Medical News Today: What to know about winter rash

People who live in areas with seasonal weather changes may develop a dry, itchy rash during the winter months.

Winter rash refers to extremely dry, or dehydrated, skin in winter. Causes include cold temperatures, low humidity levels, and using central heating.

People can take steps to avoid developing winter rash. Continue reading to find out how.

Causes and types

sore and peeling skin on a hand caused by winter rash
Winter weather may trigger some skin conditions.

Water and natural oils in the skin help it stay moist and enhance its protective abilities. Winter rash occurs when the skin loses too much moisture during cold seasons.

Cold, dry air and central heating can suck the water and oils from the skin. Other environmental factors, as well as lifestyle factors and certain medical conditions can also cause dry skin and rashes.

Winter weather can also trigger some skin conditions, such as:

  • 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.
  • Rosacea. Rosacea is a bacterial infection that causes rashes and small, red bumps on the skin.
  • Cold urticaria. This rare skin condition causes swollen, itchy bumps called hives to form after exposure to the cold. Some people develop the hives after swimming in cold water, while others are sensitive to cold air. The rash is temporary and lasts for 1–2 hours after exposure to the cold.
  • Psoriasis. Cold, dry weather can trigger psoriasis flares. Other triggers include stress, smoking, and certain infections.

Symptoms

A winter rash can spread throughout the whole body or only affect certain areas, commonly the hands or arms, as they are more exposed to cold temperatures than other areas of the body.

Symptoms of a winter rash include:

  • redness
  • itching
  • rough or scaly patches
  • bumps or blisters
  • flaking
  • inflammation

Treatment

Treatments for winter rash should focus on re-moisturizing the skin and soothing any irritation. People can use moisturizers, oils, or creams to nourish and rehydrate the skin.

A dermatologist will likely prescribe medications or topical ointments for people who have skin conditions such as rosacea or dermatitis.

Making simple lifestyle changes can also help.

Home remedies

People can try the following home remedies to relieve the symptoms of a winter rash:

Moisturize

moisturizing the skin outside due to winter rash
Moisturizing the skin can help relieve the symptoms of winter rash.

Applying moisturizer after taking a bath or shower can help lock in the moisture. Products that contain urea or lactic acid may provide even more hydration.

Fragranced skin care products contain harsh chemicals that can irritate the skin. People with sensitive skin may benefit from using fragrance-free moisturizers and creams.

Some natural products can soothe the dry, cracked skin that characterizes winter rash. For example, aloe vera gel and coconut oil contain both antibacterial and moisturizing elements and are safe to use on cracked skin.

People can apply moisturizers several times a day if needed.

Natural oils

Natural oils contain nutrients and minerals that can help soothe and replenish irritated skin. A systematic review published by the International Journal of Molecular Sciences looked at how different natural oils affect the skin.

This review found that the following oils may help:

  • Coconut oil compounds, such as lanolin and lauric acids, can improve the skin’s barrier function and promote healing.
  • Safflower oil contains large amounts of linoleic acid which has anti-inflammatory effects, making it ideal for soothing irritated skin.
  • Avocado oil contains vitamins C, D, and E, making it an excellent nourishing oil for dry or damaged skin.

Olive oil has anti-inflammatory properties, but it promotes water loss in the skin, which reduces the skin’s barrier function. People who have dermatitis or who struggle with dry skin should avoid using olive oil.

Avoid harsh soaps

Exposure to cold, dry air can weaken the skin and make it more sensitive than usual. People who experience winter rash might benefit from changing their regular cleanser and body wash during the winter.

Look for non-foaming cleansers and body washes. Avoid products that contain alcohols, parabens, synthetic dyes, or fragrances.

Turn down the heat

Central heating systems suck moisture from the air, and people should use them sparingly, even when cranking up the heat seems like a good way to escape the cold.

Also, consider turning the heat down or shutting it off at night.

Use a humidifier

A humidifier can bring much-needed moisture back into the home.

Keeping a humidifier in the bedroom or other commonly used areas can help offset the dryness caused by central heating systems.

Diagnosis

Winter rash is not a medical emergency, but if symptoms continue after a person has tried home remedies, or if the rash becomes painful, it may be a good idea to see a doctor.

Doctors can diagnose winter rash with a physical examination. During the exam, the healthcare provider will also review the individual’s medical history for indications that they may have a different skin condition.

A doctor may, rarely, recommend additional tests to rule out other possible skin conditions. Some of these tests include:

  • patch testing for allergies
  • genetic testing for certain skin conditions
  • a skin biopsy

Prevention

putting sun screen on the face on a mountain
A person can prevent winter rash by applying sunscreen to their face and neck.

Adjusting skin care and lifestyle habits can help prevent winter rash.

Skin care tips for the winter include:

  • 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

Lifestyle changes that can help prevent winter rash include:

  • using a humidifier
  • using central heating system sparingly
  • staying hydrated
  • wearing gloves when outside
  • avoiding spending long periods in direct sunlight

Risk factors

Anyone can get winter rash, but some people have a higher risk than others. Having a history of certain skin conditions can increase a person’s likelihood of developing winter rash.

Risk factors for winter rash can include:

  • having rosacea
  • having eczema
  • having asthma
  • allergies
  • spending long periods outside
  • viral or bacterial infections
  • sensitivity to ingredients in cosmetics or other skin products
  • older age
  • stress
  • dehydration

Outlook

Winter rash occurs when the skin loses too much moisture due to exposure to cold, dry air. The rash may involve itching, inflammation, and flaky patches of skin.

Some winter rashes only affect certain areas, such as the hands and arms, while others can spread throughout the body.

People with skin conditions such as dermatitis or psoriasis may experience worse symptoms during the winter.

Moisturizing regularly and investing in a humidifier can help prevent winter rash. Use natural oils to nourish the skin and lock in hydration, but avoid using olive oil, as it can make dry skin worse.

Contact a doctor if winter rash gets worse or does not respond to home treatments. Persistent dry skin can indicate another underlying condition.