Magazine article USA TODAY

What's Behind Winter Itch?

Magazine article USA TODAY

What's Behind Winter Itch?

Article excerpt

Winter is nearly here, which means that temperature and humidity are dropping, while itchy, painful skin associated with cold weather is on the rise. Dry, chapped, cracked, red, scaly skin occurs most often during the cooler, windier winter months, according to the Lanacane itch Information Center, White Plains, N.Y. If these symptoms sound familiar, you may be suffering from winter pruritis, or winter itching.

"Winter pruritis can be quite uncomfortable and annoying, since it is often accompanied by chronic itching and, sometimes, inflammation and swelling," explains James Leyden, professor of dermatology University of Pennsylvania. In addition, dry skin is more prone to bacterial invasion than normal, healthy skin, which can lead to secondary infections, furthering the sufferer's pain and itching.

Winter pruritis usually occurs on the face, lower legs, the back of the hands, and the arms. The face and the hands often are left unprotected from the winter elements, but the arms and legs have fewer oil and sweat glands. That, in part, accounts for why they are more prone to the effects of low humidity.

Relative humidity is important for maintaining the normal moisture balance in the skin. "The lower temperatures, wind, and humidity of winter months cause the outer layer of the skin to dry out, becoming less flexible, which may cause cracking. …

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