Fall is here and the thermometer will continue to creep lower and lower as the cold of winter approaches. The change in temperature can have a dramatic effect on people's skin. In preparation for fall and the long cold winter to follow, I have put together some basic skin care tips to prevent itchy dry skin from interfering with everyday life.

For most people, dry skin begins and ends at the hands, which are usually the extremities most exposed to the elements. Fortunately, a few simple steps can keep cracked fingertips and dry flaky skin at bay.

Wash your hands less often and limit/avoid alcohol-based hand sanitizers. I know, as a mother of two young children, that cold weather usually brings cold and flu season, however common soaps and hand sanitizers really contribute to dryness so only wash and use sanitizer when your hands are dirty. If you must wash or use sanitizer, be sure to use a dye and fragrance free hand moisturizer afterwards. Brands such as: Cetaphil, CeraVe, Vanicream and Neutrigena Swiss Formula are some of the common ones we recommend.

If hand dryness persists try a soak and slather routine once or twice a day:

  • Soak hands in warm water about 10-15 minutes to soften the skin
  • Slather with prescribed medication or Vaseline
  • Put hands in cotton gloves and allow medicine to soak in.

Many patients will do this process at night and wear the cotton gloves to bed. This technique can produce very good results.

For those that have basic dry skin issues elsewhere on the body, consider adding a humidifier to the rooms you spend the most time in. Moist air can noticeably improve skin quality without much interference in your day-to-day life and activities.

Another easy step is to pay attention to the time you spend in the shower and bath. Only bathe as long as it takes to clean yourself and keep the water as warm as tolerable. Do your best to avoid very hot showers or baths. When cleaning yourself, gently wash in circles – do not scrub your skin. People with sensitive skin should always use hypoallergenic cleansers and soaps, which are free of dyes and fragrances. Once done washing, pat yourself dry — don't rub. And finally, bathe no more than once a day.

Immediately following your bath, apply a hypoallergenic moisturizer on your skin while it is still moist. Common brands I recommend are Cetaphil, CeraVe, Vanicream and Aveeno.

For those with very sensitive skin, I additionally recommend using only dye and fragrance free laundry detergent and to discontinue using dryer sheets and fabric softener.

These are just a couple of tried and true techniques to combat the nasty dry skin that accompanies the arrival of Old Man Winter. If you experience dryness that is persistent or results in prolonged bleeding please contact your physician to be evaluated.

Christine Stanko, MD, FAAD, is the founder of Bryn Mawr Dermatology and has been practicing dermatology in Bryn Mawr, PA since 2003. Dr. Stanko specializes in laser therapy, cosmetic techniques and skin cancer surgery.