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Extremely Dry Winter Skin Can Have Dangerous Consequences

Author: Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It’s almost unavoidable in the winter: dry skin.

But if you’re not careful, it can lead to something worse.

And when it comes to staying moisturized, that lotion you’re using might not be the best option.

Like many people this time of year, 12-year-old Savannah Kreil has dry skin on her hands.

“They started to burn when I’d wash them some,” said Savannah.

“She just said ‘Mommy, they’re itching real bad, they hurt, they’re cracked and they’re bleeding.’ And I’m like, OK, well, it’s from the cold weather. Make sure you have gloves on when you go outside,” said Savannah’s mother Tina Kriel.

It was so bad, her friends and teachers though she had something contagious.

“She’d have her hands up, and the kids are like what’s on your hands? What is that? And she’s like it’s dry skin. And the teachers are making her use hand sanitizer,” said Tina.

It’s a problem dermatologist Dr. Robin Gehris sees a lot in the winter months.

“This time of year, the air is very dry, we’ve got our heat cranked to the max, and that’s taking moisture out of the air. And everything is just evaporating out of our skin,” said Gehris.

Most people try to take care of it themselves.

“When we talk about moisturizers, they’re not all equal,” said Gehris. “You want a moisturizer that’s got no fragrance in it, because fragrance can aggravate dry skin. You want a moisturizer that is very thick, so something like a cream or an ointment is going to be better than a lotion. Lotion often has an alcohol base and can sting.”

Sometimes even with moisturizers, the skin turns red and itchy – signs and symptoms of eczema.

“Sometimes they’re even painful, so you’re putting your lotions on and it stings when you’re putting them on. That indicates to me you’ve got some inflammation in the picture,” said Gehris.

Over the counter products may not be targeting the inflammation. To calm the skin down, the doctor can prescribe you a steroid cream.

But it’s not for everyday use. Take breaks over the weekends.

“Using it every day without breaks, there could be side effects, like thinning of the skin, where all of a sudden you can see the blood vessels a little more easily, you can get stretch marks on the skin,” said Gehris.

One of those dangers of excessive dryness is that viruses and bacteria can get in though the broken skin and cause infection.

Savannah has been using a steroid cream for the past week and her hands have already improved.

“They’re not as red as they were,” she said.

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