WHEN temperatures dipped to uncharacteristic lows recently, many Southern Californians experienced something even more unsettling than high heating bills: dry skin that flakes and itches.
Winter dryness, which can lead to problems such as eczema, is caused by environmental factors that pull moisture from the skin's surface layer, the stratum corneum . When cold wind and low humidity dry the stratum corneum , the skin begins to flake and itch. This dryness can progress to deeper layers, resulting in redness and painful cracking. Eczema, an inflammation of the skin, is one of the most common results, says Dr. Patricia G. Engasser, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Stanford University School of Medicine.
Facial creams and lip balms soothe skin above the neck. But in extremely cold weather, skin all over the body suffers, usually because people do not remember to moisturize it. Also, layers of cold-weather clothing can keep perspiration on the skin, and chapping can result.
Engasser says that the most effective body-care products are "occlusive" lotions, which remain on the skin's surface to seal in moisture. Some occlusives, like petrolatum and pure lanolin, can leave an unpleasant coating on the skin, so most people prefer lighter, commercially formulated products such as Neutrogena Emulsion and Lubriderm.