Do you find your skin getting itchy and dry as the temperature drops outside? In this article we look at what’s going on with itchy skin in winter, and find out which is the best moisturiser to use on it.
Winter itch (also known as pruritus hiemalis) is the name given to the type of dermatitis that can flare up in winter, as the air gets colder and drier. This change in temperature and humidity causes sensitive skin to lose moisture to the air, leaving skin dehydrated. And dehydrated skin can get itchy and sore very easily!
The reason is because dry skin can’t maintain a strong barrier against water loss; it gets cracked and thin, letting in external irritants and reacting more severely to ordinary household substances - detergents, soap, dust, pet hair, perfumes etc - and triggering inflammatory reactions, which in turn cause that infernal itching!
What makes winter itch different from other types of rashes or dermatitis, or generally dry and sensitive skin, which can look and feel very similar? Well, it does have some particular characteristics.
Winter itch's characteristics:
- comes on with a change in temperature and humidity
- comes on suddenly
- can last a few days or recur throughout the winter
- doesn’t have a visible rash
- appears on the body, particularly on the legs: inner thighs, knees (inside and out), and ankles
- tends not to affect the face, hands or scalp
- affects adults, especially older people, rather than children
- can be particularly uncomfortable at night when clothes are removed
- while it’s often mild, the itch leads to scratching, which can damage the skin
So while winter itch isn’t generally a severe condition, it can cause a lot of distress and discomfort, especially if it means sufferers lose sleep because of the itching.
Treatment focuses on making things more comfortable for dry skin, particularly at night time, when the itch is at its worst. These four steps can help:
- Applying emollients, during the day and before bed
- Sleeping in soft, thin, natural bedding /sleepwear
- Bathing and then moisturising before bed
- Taking antihistamines before bed
So which emollient should you use?
The answer is “not just any moisturiser”! You need to find one that will work effectively to moisturise your dry skin, while not irritating it further. Dry, itchy skin affected by winter itch is likely to flare up much more readily than during warmer months, and can react to cosmetic moisturisers that you’d otherwise be able to use, so you need to pick carefully.
We’d suggest picking one that is as free as possible from irritating ingredients, especially perfumes and other synthetic additives. You can pick a lotion, a cream, an oil or an ointment, depending on your preference. You can even use a combination of different emollients according to when you’re using them, and where on the body you’re applying them!
Oils can leave you feeling more oily (naturally!) than lotions, but when they’re 100% natural, they shouldn’t contain preservatives or fragrances or emulsifiers that can add to the itch.
Creams (like Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream) and lotions are both water-based, so will need some kind of preservation system, usually pure alcohol. Some people with winter itch are sensitive to some preservatives, so do patch test first.
Balmonds Cooling Cream is a good choice as a light, effective lotion for winter itch, because it’s designed to calm down the sensation of itchiness. It contains menthol, lavender and aloe, as well as deeply moisturising shea butter.
The most effective kind of emollient for intensive hydration is a salve, balm or ointment, which are all oil-based, rather than water-based. A beeswax-based anhydrous ointment (like Skin Salvation) doesn’t need preservatives, so is usually very well tolerated even on very sensitive skin. The downside to ointments is that they’re thick and often quite greasy, but they’re excellent on very dry, sore or cracked skin!
Whichever you choose, make sure you keep on applying your moisturiser while the winter itch is flaring. Keeping your skin as nourished and protected as possible should help reduce the dryness and itch.
Balmonds Skin Salvation
with hemp and beeswax
Balmonds Cooling Cream
with shea, menthol, aloe vera & lavender
Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream
with shea butter and calendula
Bath & Body Oil
with lavender, hemp and olive
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.