Tuesday, September 7

Winter dry skin - Why do we get dry skin in winter?

Dry skin in winter - Why do we get dry skin in winter.
Most of us experience dry skin during winter. In winter, dry skin is caused due to loss of moisture from epidermis layer. Winter heralds festivity, snow and sports for many of us.
However for many others it means dry, scaly and itchy skin with dull and faded appearance. Understanding the environmental changes and the related changes on our skin can help us in tackling dry conditions.

Dry winter skin: Significance of relative humidity

Sun heats up the air and water bodies around us and water evaporates into atmosphere increasing its water content. This percentage of water content in atmosphere is called relative humidity. The ideal level of humidity for human skin to feel comfortable and be healthy is between 30% to 60%. Our epidermis is tuned to produce sweat during hot weather to cool the body.

When the sweat evaporates it takes away heat from the epidermis surface due to 'principle of latent heat of vaporization' and making it cool.
  • The change is endothermic, meaning that the sweat (water) absorbs energy (heat) from surroundings (skin) for going from liquid to gas state. In hot summer if we are surrounded by big water bodies or sea the relative humidity of air goes beyond 60% and sometimes reaching even 100%.

    In such conditions, the evaporation from epidermis surface is greatly reduced as sweat does not evaporate as the air is already loaded with high levels of moisture. This causes great discomfort as our body does not cool properly. However the sweating and high activity of the sebaceous glands keep the epidermis sufficiently hydrated.

    Low winter humidity causes dry skin

    In winter the reverse effects are true.
  • The sweat glands and also sebaceous gland activity is greatly reduced in cold weather. Skin pores are also closed due to cold weather. As the air is cold and as the water bodies are not warmed up the relative humidity drops down and air becomes very low in moisture. This cold air picks up moisture from the surfaces it comes into contact.

    If we are exposed to such draught of cold wind the moisture from epidermis layer gets removed causing flaking and scaling. The same dehydrated air also occupy our house in cold weather. If we use heaters in the house the air further dehydrates the skin. Further the fluctuation from cold air outdoors to dehydrated warm air inside the home takes away further moisture from epidermis.

    Effects of winter air on stratum corneum layer of skin

    Those having chronic dry skin will find great discomfort, itching and dermatitis during these winter conditions.
  • Persons with normal or oily epidermis also get into spells of dehydrated conditions in cold weather due to dehydration of the top most layer, stratum corneum. With lower temperatures in winter skin turnover is reduced. The moisture trapped between the lipid stacks of stratum corneum layer get dehydrated due to low humidity of the air.

    Further there is no topping up of the moisture or lipids by the sweat and oil glands. So the stratum corneum structure gets affected and so also is desquamation process resulting in flaking and scaling. The regions of the epidermis having less concentration of sebaceous glands are the most affected.

    Winter dry skin: tackling the problem

    The dehydrated skin problem can be tackled effectively by following certain basic principles like not getting exposed to cold wild, using humidifier in living area and copious use of moisturizer etc. There is no need to live with painful, scaly, winter dry skin and there are many ways to alleviate the situation.

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