Health Watch -- Winter Dryness

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Snow flakes aren't the only flakes falling this time of year.

The combination of cold winds outdoors and dry, heated air indoors can wreak havoc on your skin and scalp. The result is dry, itchy skin and dandruff. Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say there are some things you can do to ease this seasonal discomfort.

Dandruff is a skin disorder caused by the excessive shedding of dead skin cells from the scalp. It causes itching and those embarrassing white flakes that settle on your shoulders. Dr. Paul Bergstresser, UT Southwestern's chairman of dermatology, says there isn't a cure for dandruff, but it can be controlled.

Most people find relief from over-the-counter dandruff shampoos. Look for shampoos containing tar as an active ingredient. These shampoos help restore moisture balance to the scalp, which reduces flaking. If the dandruff persists, or if you also have redness and greasy scaling on your face, eyebrows or eyelashes, you may need to see a dermatologist.

You can help ease winter dryness by treating your skin with extra care. Avoid long, hot showers or baths, which strip protective oils from your skin. Take shorter showers with cooler water. When you get out of the shower, gently pat your skin with a towel until it's not quite dry, and then immediately put on a moisturizer.

You may find it helpful to add moisture to your home with a vaporizer or humidifier, especially in cold, dry climates.