Oh, winter itch. That prickly, insatiable deep down skin irritation that makes otherwise rational people want to scream in frustration. I get calls all the time from customers who are looking for remedies for their chappy skin or flaring psoriasis or eczema which plagues them this time of year. They just "want it to stop" before they scratch themselves to scabs. The good news is that there are some things you can do to stop the dreaded winter itch. And, the more of them you do, the better your results and sanity.
Here are 14 Ways to Ditch Winter Itch Starting Today:
1. Drink LOTS of WATER. No amount of moisturizing on the outside can compensate for a failure to hydrate on the inside. Water, not juice, not soda, not coffee should be your major go to source as it eliminates toxins from your body that can often be the cause of irritation and itchiness. How much water should you be drinking every day? You can go for the "one size fits all" approach of 8 - 8oz. glasses of water a day (about 1/2 gallon or 2 liters), or the customized approach of 1/2 to 1 ounce per pound you weigh (if you weigh 150 lbs, then you would consume between 75 and 150 ounces of water depending on your activity level and how much you are sweating). If you think water is too plain, then get yourself some limes and lemons at the store and keep some slices just for your water glass. Not only does it flavor your water but it helps keep your kidneys and liver functioning optimally, too.
2. Lay Off the Caffeine. When I have a weak moment and down a Pepsi, I swear I can feel my skin start to shrivel within minutes. There is a reason for that. It is best to keep caffeine to topical application only for skin health. Caffeinated drinks like soda, coffee, tea or some hot chocolates are first-rate diuretics that leach water from your body. Alcoholic drinks do the same. For every caffeinated drink you consume you will need to drink the same amount in water to counteract it, and that is on top of your water intake we discussed in #1. If you want a hot drink, grab an herbal tea instead. They are hot, caffeine-free and yummy with honey.
3. Gently Exfoliate. Cold air holds less moisture than hot air so we naturally lose a lot of moisture from our skin when fall gives way to winter. Losing moisture from our skin makes for a faster turnover of skin cells, thus leaving a layer of dead, scaly skin on the surface that gets... you guessed it... very itchy. Most people just try to slather on lotion to fix it, but if you are trying to add moisture to a dead layer of skin you are just wasting your time and product. You need to gently exfoliate the dead layer away and put the moisturizer on the live skin to seal in that dewy goodness and keep it from going the way of the last layer too quickly. Notice I said "gently." I know when your skin is making you crazy that it is tempting to scrub until your foot thumps like man's best friend, but hard exfoliation will actually damage the underlying healthy skin layer and create the same problem you are trying to avoid. Gently.... Gently..
The best exfoliation products to use are Dry Body Brushes, all natural exfoliating soaps, all-natural body scrubs, and natural bath accessories. Dry body brushing every day before you bath or shower, is an excellent way to stay on top of itchy skin while stimulating your lymphatic system at the same time to eliminate waste. You start at your feet and brush in long strokes upward towards the heart, then move up the torso, and then the arms, always brushing towards the heart. Gentle exfoliating soaps and/or bath accessories in the shower or tub feel great and usually keep you from scrubbing too hard at the beginning. Body Scrubs like our Cellulite Reducer Body Scrub made with organic sugar are particularly wonderful because they get rid of the dead layer of skin and immediately lock moisture into the healthy layer of skin below with their nutrient rich oils.
4. Use the Best Soap. Commercial soaps and lotions are loaded with artificial chemicals and fragrances which can irritate and dehydrate the skin. When choosing soap, use only all natural soaps as they retain the natural, skin-loving glycerin that naturally forms when crafted. Also, skip on fragrance oils and synthetic colorants. They may smell and look pretty, but the cost to your skin's health is too high. Opt only for 100 percent pure essential oil scented products that use herbs and/or clays for colorants. Once you do you will never want to go back. If you are super sensitive, use all natural unscented bath and body products.
5. Moisturize. Moisturize. Moisturize. Just as moisturizing dead skin doesn't do any good, it doesn't do any good to exfoliate if you don't moisturize afterwards. Because winter air is dry, it wants to pull moisture from wherever it can find it, and sometimes that is you. Choosing a good moisture-locking all natural body butter, lotion bar, body oil, or scrub can ensure you hold on to your moisture longer, and eliminating the itch.
6. Read Your Labels. Like stated above, many commercial products contain chemicals that are irritating to the skin and can even cause aggravated skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. Read the labels on your soaps, laundry detergents, lotions, make up, shampoos, etc., and start replacing these items with all-natural products that really do what they claim and with ingredients you can pronounce. Be aware of any allergies you have to foods or ingredients (you can even have allergies to natural additives - I am allergic to corn and lavender - loads of fun - sniff) and avoid those ingredients at all costs. Your body will not react well to them and you may end up with hives on top of your itchy skin. No bueno.
7. Pass on the Hand Sanitizer. I see some people squirting hand sanitizer like they are going to single-handedly prevent the zombie apocalypse. Truth is, hand sanitizers are mostly alcohol with a humectant mixed in to "restore" some moisture back to the skin. Not only are hand sanitizers drying to the skin, but they contain an antimicrobial chemical called triclosan. That may sound good on the surface, but triclosan has been found to be a concerning chemical in research because it can decrease your immune system's efficiency, and cause bacteria to develop antibiotic resistance. Read HERE for more information on the problems with hand sanitizers. If you can't get to a good all-natural moisturizing soap and water (the best choice always for hand sanitization), then opt for a product that contains antimicrobial and antiviral properties from the 100 pure essential oils it contains, like our Rogue Lotion Bar. Not only do studies show that the contained essential oils kill all types of viruses and bacteria (read about them HERE and HERE), but they do a deep dermal penetration for long-lasting moisture.
8. Turn Down the Temperature. I get it. It's cold outside. But, keeping that thermostat humming in the mid-70's will just dry you and everything else out faster. Yes, I said that warmer air has more moisture, but I was talking about summer warm air, not the already dried out winter air that you are now heating up. If you can layer up, the optimal temperature to keep your house in the winter is 68 degrees. Warmer than that and you are drying out the air too much. It is also very beneficial to not run your bath or showers too hot either. I know that it feels amazing when you are cold, and it seems to provide temporary relief to itchy skin, but turning the temperature down a notch on your shower/bath will help your skin retain more of its hydration after the shower is over. Don't forget to follow up with a moisture locking body butter like we discussed in #2!
9. Add Oatmeal and Baking Soda to Your Bath. We have already covered that a lower temperature of water is ideal when taking a bath in the winter time, but you might want to consider adding a little bit of love your your water, too. Bath salts that contain oatmeal and baking soda (like these) act as anti-inflammatory agents that soothe irritated skin. Baking soda also neutralizes any nasty chemicals in the water - Bonus! Don't overdo it on the salts, however. Use moderation and only take 1-2 baths with salts a week. More than that and the salts will do the opposite and dry you out worse.
10. Use a Humidifier. I grew up in a part of the county that was hot-humid in the summer and wet-freezing in the winter. When I moved west as an adult I giggled when I learned that there was such a thing as a swamp cooler to use in the summer rather than an air conditioner. It took only one summer to teach me why, and quickly. Winter was worse with my skin turning to itchy leather before my eyes. A humidifier goes a long way to help relieve the itchies. You can either get one that does the whole house through your furnace, or opt for a small room-size version to sleep with at night. The difference can be profound.
11. Create a Barrier Before You Depart. Make sure to bundle up your skin in addition to your body before you leave the house. Use a good all-natural facial moisturizer, lip balm, and hand lotion as a barrier for your skin, and then put on a scarf, hat and gloves to keep your heat and moisture in. You will have less to make up for when you return home.
12. Know Your Fabrics. This may seem of little importance, as we often grab whatever clothing looks warm in the moment, forgetting that wool can make us itch or synthetic fibers help evaporate moisture. Knowing which fabric to wear when is important to maintain supple skin. Cotton can be your friend as it is soft on persnickety skin, but if you are going to be outside doing work like shoveling or hiking, it can turn into your worst enemy. As you sweat the cotton will hold that moisture in and you could get hypothermia. My husband always likes to say when dressing for outdoor activity, "Survive in synthetics. Wool is warm, and cotton kills."
13. Eat Fish and Flaxseed Oil. Fish and flaxseed oil contain essential fatty acids (EFAs) that protect your skin from the damaging effects of the environment, thus helping your skin to retain moisture and reduce itching. Nice. Try to incorporate them into your winter meals as often as you can or take them as a supplement.
14. Practice Your A, B, and E's in Diet. Dried fruits are high in vitamins A, B, and E which keep your skin hydrated. Incorporate dried fruits into your snack routine and add them to your lunch or dinner salads. They give a great energy boost, too. Just don't eat too much because they are high in sugar and can pack on the pounds. As with everything, moderation.