Take care of your dry skin in winter months

Published 8:14 am Monday, January 18, 2010

The skin is the largest organ in the human body. The health of your skin is vital to your overall health, well being, personal body image and self-esteem. The skin is your first line of defense against infection, can be an indicator of many other internal health concerns and provides the first impression others have of you.

A youthful look can be maintained by taking good care of your skin with regular sleep, a nutritious diet, hydration, and a proper skin care regimen including daily sunscreen with an SPF 45 or greater and good UVA protection. Additionally, it is important to avoid smoking and tanning (both artificial tanning beds and direct sun exposure) as both of these factors increase your risk for skin cancer, thins the skin making blood vessels more visible, increases wrinkles, can increase pigment irregularities and decreases the elasticity of the skin.

Monthly self skin exams and annual complete skin examinations by your dermatologist are important when looking for changing moles and other precancerous lesions.

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While the skin is cosmetically important, when you have multiple moles, your risk of skin cancer increases. Skin cancer is highly curable when caught early and this examination protocol can actually reduce your risk of melanoma through early intervention. For specific details, please refer to my Web site at www.ZoggDermatology.com.

Medical conditions such as diabetes, varicose veins and other circulatory health concerns can manifest themselves through the skin. Rashes, itchy skin, difficult wound healing and leg ulcers may even result.

Hay fever, sinus difficulties and allergies often include skin difficulties such as dermatitis, rashes and itchy skin with or without rash and dry skin. The winter months can be very harsh with extreme temperatures leaving us at risk for extremely dry skin. Avoid chemical exposures to perfumes, harsh chemicals in soaps and detergents and apply shielding lotions to help provide the best over-the-counter measures. When more intervention is required, seek the help of your dermatologist for both prescriptive agents and skin care advice before your skin becomes infected and painful. Simple preventive measures can be put into place to avoid serious complications.

Frostbite and hypothermia are of particular concern during these cold months. It is important to keep your skin from being exposed to the elements including moisture, cold temperatures and wind chill. Dressing in layers will allow you the best thermal regulation. It is important to avoid perspiring during activity. Evaporation of your perspiration hastens heat loss and hypothermia. As our body loses heat, it protects the core body temperature from getting too low by directing blood flow to the central body from the face, hands and feet. As a result, the face, hands and feet are at greatest risk from exposure during extreme temperatures and frostbite can ensue.

If you do experience frostbite, do not vigorously rub the skin as you can damage the skin and not even feel this damage due to decreased sensation. When thawing the skin, a quick thaw will minimize permanent tissue damage; however, use warm water, not hot, to avoid scalding your skin during the period of decreased sensation. Avoid re-freezing the skin as extensive skin damage can occur. Aspirin or possibly ibuprofen can be helpful in control of the discomfort of frostbite and also help the circulation to the recently frozen skin. If pain persists, darkening or breakdown of the skin occurs, seek the care of your dermatologist immediately.

Hand washing is important during this cold and flu season to prevent spread and contamination but can also be very harsh to the skin of our hands. Shielding lotions provide the best assistance in maintaining and repairing the integrity of our skin. Shielding lotions bind with our skin, sealing our own natural oils in and offering some protection from outside elements. Regular synthetic moisturizers generally turn off our own oil production, are not adequately absorbed and leave our skin feeling greasy requiring more moisturizer applications. If over-the-counter measures do not offer the relief you require, seek the care and advice of your dermatologist.

Your skin is one key element to a healthy you! Take care of your skin and it will last a lifetime!

Brian Zogg is an Albert Lea dermatologist. Health Corner is a column that rotates weekly among local medical, fitness and health professionals.