Got dry skin? | Dr. Petter

The majority of people suffer from dry skin this time of the year.

The skin is the driest during the winter, when the temperature and the humidity levels are low. In addition, spending more time in-doors exposes the skin to dry heat from furnaces, fireplaces and space-heaters.

Frequent hand washing or bathing can breakdown the lipid barrier of the skin. As the natural oils are removed, the skin becomes more vulnerable to the elements.

Besides environmental factors, medical conditions like a thyroid disorder and psoriasis can also cause dry skin. Certain prescription medications like diuretics, used to treat high blood pressure, can further dry the skin.

Dry skin is often itchy, rough and chapped. The skin may flake and peel. Especially after bathing or showering, the skin may become tighter. Fine lines and wrinkles may become more prominent. Deep cracks or fissures can develop in the skin, leading to bleeding and pain.

Many home remedies can provide immediate relief for dry, irritated skin. Use a mild soap like Dove, or glycerin soaps like Neutrogena. When bathing or showering, turn down the temperature of the water, as the hotter the water, the dryer the skin can become. Limit bathing to less than 15 minutes; gently pat the skin dry and apply lotion (i.e., Lubriderm, Eucerin, or Keri) to help seal in the moisture. Keep hydrated by drinking 8 glasses of water every day, each 8 ounces. And, using a room humidifier can put moisture back into the air and help lessen dry skin.

For those that experience sensitive or excessive dry skin (Xerosis), wash cloths and bedding in detergents void of perfumes and/or dyes (i.e., Tide-free or Cheer-free). Consider wearing natural fabrics against the skin, such as cotton and silk. Eat foods rich in zinc (i.e., nuts, eggs, beef) and omega-3 fatty acids (i.e., fish, flaxseed), as they can improve overall skin health.

For persistently itchy skin, consider applying over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream twice a day for two weeks. Cold compresses and/or using an ice cube to rub over affected areas can cool and sooth irritated skin.

If these tips do not help in a reasonable period of time, be sure to make an appointment to see your doctor. Anytime your skin becomes red, hot, swollen, or you develop sores that do not heal, see your doctor right away.

Dr. Linda Petter, of Auburn, is a weekly feature on the ABC affiliate KOMO TV/News Radio in Seattle (1000 AM and 97.7 FM) every Sunday live 7:45 a.m., and a weekly columnist for the Auburn Reporter newspaper. She trained at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Illinois, Carle Hospital. Dr. Petter is Chief of the Department of Family Practice at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. She is a consumer health care advocate, and her books, "Healthcare On a Budget" and "Common Medical Sense" are available on Please visit her website,

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