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How to protect your skin from Alaska’s harsh winter climate

By Karen A. Fell
Arctic Health Link

Winter in Alaska can be harsh on your skin, creating unique challenges and possibly serious dry skin problems.

No matter what your skin type, you can still experience dry skin during extremely cold temperatures and when environmental humidity is low. Dry skin can occur at any age in people with or without a history of skin problems.

Most people are familiar with what dry skin looks like, as the normal, fine lines in the skin become more visible and the skin may feel rough.

Dry skin can occur anywhere on the body, but is most commonly found on the arms and legs. Itching occurs because of very dry skin, which can be severe enough to affect sleep and daily activities.

Repeated rubbing and scratching of the affected area can produce thickened, rough skin. In addition to itching, dry skin can crack, causing painful splits in the skin – especially on the hands and feet. Dry skin can become inflamed or red because of extreme dryness. Round, scaly, itchy, red patches, known as eczema, may also develop.

Treatment of dry skin may involve a trip to your health care provider for advice, and it is important to identify what is contributing to dry skin to improve the outcome.

Bathing frequently with hot, soapy water uses up the natural skin oils, thereby removing the normal, protective oils on the skin. A generous application of moisturizer following a bath or shower should be applied while the skin is partially dry. This will help seal water in the skin before it has a chance to evaporate.

Try to limit a shower or bath to no more than 10 minutes during a 24-hour period and remember to use warm rather than hot water. Also, consider using a mild soap for dry skin types.

Additional tips for winter skin care include:

• Increase the humidity level in your home or work place by using a portable humidifier.

• When shaving, use shaving cream, change blades often and shave in the direction of hair growth.

• Use sunscreen – even on cloudy days.

• Soothe chapped lips with lip balm.

Making small changes can have a large impact on the quality of your skin during the harsh winter months. Utilizing these simple skin care tips can help your skin survive exposure to the damaging, cold temperatures and low humidity levels we experience in Alaska. Taking care of your skin involves a daily commitment, but the results will be well worth the effort.