With the winter cold hot on our heels, you may be starting to suffer from dry skin already. If you’re an eczema, psoriasis, or dermatitis veteran, or are just prone to feeling itchy in general, seasonal changes can be a total nightmare for your skin. 

While steroids, be they doctor-prescribed or over-the-counter, can do wonders to relieve these conditions, they can cause damage to the skin. Sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, your regular dose simply doesn’t feel like it’s enough to provide relief. The repeated use of steroids can also cause thinning or atrophy as collagen in the skin reduces over time. Due to this it is generally advised to use the least amount possible that will keep your dryness and irritation at bay.

As someone who is prone to dryness (and itch!), especially during the colder months, I’ve put together a list of some of the tools and rituals I carry out to keep my skin hydrated and itch-free. Whether you suffer from a skin condition, or winter dryness in general, these can be implemented into your routine alone, or in unison with topical steroids treatments you may be using. 

Cool it

Keep your ointments, aqueous creams, and moisturisers refrigerated for a soothing cooling effect. This is probably one of the simplest and best tips I’ve ever been given. Though refrigerating creams won’t really improve on their efficacy, the cold will provide a temporary relief from itch and can even help to reduce puffiness in the skin. 

If you are feeling extra, buying a skincare fridge is a super convenient way to keep products cool in your bathroom. Your regular fridge will do the trick though!

Keep it simple

Though perfumed lotions and creams are rather delicious, if you have dryness and itch, it’s probably best to opt for something that’s fragrance- and paraben-free. Make sure you read the back of the bottle too: the longer the list, the harder it is to identify potentially triggering ingredients. For example, I very recently used what I thought was your trusted, safe to use on babies emollient and subsequently was left with dry patches all over my body.   

If you have a specific condition, make sure you are using something hypoallergenic. Generally, it’s best to opt for something like Sorbolene lotion or an aqueous cream. These are relatively inexpensive and while they don’t smell of anything fancy, they provide great hydration and are very unlikely to cause irritation. I also find that Aveeno products are great if you are wanting something a little less pharmaceutical. Their products are dermatologist recommended and they have a number of fragrance-free options too. I’m currently using their Daily Moisturising Lotion (Fragrance Free) which has quickly cleared up the aftermath of my emollient disaster. 

Find some clarity

If you suffer from an itchy scalp, or even seborrheic dermatitis, make sure you are washing your hair frequently enough to suit you. There’s a lot of content online encouraging us to wean our hair off washing, especially in regards to “hair growth routines”. 

While it’s good to not over do it, you must tailor your hair washing routine to cater to your individual needs if you want a truly healthy scalp. Some people may be able to go a week without washing but many factors including hair density and type, and the rate at which you produce sebum can all affect how frequently you should be cleaning your hair. 

It’s not worth powering through a hair growth routine at the expense of an itchy and irritated scalp. In fact, excess build up will be just as counter-productive as over-washing if you are trying to maximise growth and the overall health of your scalp.

Using a clarifying, medicated shampoo like Selsun (I personally love their menthol one for the cooling sensation it gives) is a game changer if you suffer from dandruff and/or an itch. In my teens, I struggled with some seborrheic dermatitis and this stuff pretty much saved me! Though I don’t really have major issues with my scalp any more, I find stress can trigger some minor itching. When I do experience this, I’ll use Selsun to get things back on track. For routine use, I find that Kevin Murphy is one of the only shampoo brands that truly doesn’t irritate me. They even have their own clarifying shampoo, Maxi Wash, which is excellent too.

No shade

The jury might still be out on this one, but trial removing nightshades from your diet. Nightshades contain high levels of salicylates, amines, and glutamines, which have all been known to trigger inflammation of skin for those who have sensitivities to these. Salicylates in foods can often cause eczema flare ups for those who suffer from the skin condition, so reducing or avoiding nightshades or other salicylate-dense foods may be helpful. 

For the last couple of years, I’ve tended to avoid consuming nightshades and I do personally think it makes a difference. I will, however, enjoy them on occasion – moderation is key after all! Some everyday examples of nightshades are:

  • White potatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Chilli pepper
  • Red spices
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Tobacco

Get salty

I know it can be tempting to throw a colourful bath bomb in when the water is running but it might be good to skip this step if you’re having trouble with your skin. Bath bombs usually contain a lot of ingredients that can be hard on sensitive skin. While the base ingredients (baking soda and citric acid) aren’t necessarily skin irritants, they usually have an abundance of essential oils, dyes, and artificial fragrances packed in them, all of which can possibly cause a topical reaction. Bath bombs can also potentially throw off your vaginal pH, so make sure you know what you are putting in the bath, ladies!

Take your bath with some epsom salts instead. They are great for relieving itch and locking in hydration too. There’s also the added bonus that they relieve muscle tension and help reduce overall stress levels. Simms Jones White Crest Epsom Salts are my go-to and are super affordable.

Make sure to be careful not to shower or bathe in water that is too hot. As difficult as this can be in the colder months, it’s better for keeping inflamed skin settled.

Drink smarter

Alcohol tends to dry out the skin in general so it could be a good idea to reduce your intake if you drink often. This one might vary person to person: some people claim that alcohol has no effect on their skin, while others (myself included) can definitely attribute patterns in flare ups with periods of more frequent drinking, like the holiday season.

Although no one can really seem to agree on this, the suggestion is that there could be a link between alcohol and the body’s production of inflammatory cytokines and cell cycle activators. In turn, this could increase the skin cell regeneration and furthermore, cause a flare up.

Really the best way to find out is through trial and error. I keep my drinking fairly limited these days and when I do indulge, I try to avoid wine and beer, as I find these particular types of hooch make me itchy. Instead I opt for clear spirits (like white tequila or gin) and try to limit how many delectable, shrubby, sugary cocktails I have. 

Article by Grace Parsons, Photograph by @emrata

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