Common symptoms include dry, flaky skin that, if left untreated, can cause unpleasant itching and splitting; this can be extremely painful if affecting the soles of the feet and the tips of the fingers, to the extent that even the simplest of daily tasks become extremely difficult to carry out. However, some people who do not develop this problem still experience skin that loses its shine and appears duller than normal, affecting their self-confidence and increasing the amount of time that they spend moisturising to try to remedy the problem.

The problem of dry skin in winter does not, however, affect everyone. Cold, dry air reduces moisture levels in the upper layers of some people’s skin (the epidermis) as well as diminishing the protective qualities of naturally occurring oils, although some people’s skin seems to be more resistant to the negative effects of cold air than others’. Also, regular handwashing, which is more common in winter as people try to beat cold and flu bugs, causes the loss of oils in the epidermis, exacerbating the problem for those for whom dry skin is already an issue.

Moisturise… repeatedly

Dry skin in winter is essentially caused by a deficiency in the amount of water in the epidermis. Therefore, you need to try to restore the moisture levels in the skin by applying moisturiser regularly throughout the day as well as after washing your hands. While a wide variety of moisturisers are available, emollient products are most effective, although you may find them a little oily to use. Nevertheless, slap it on thickly and regularly! When applying moisturiser at night, wear a pair of rubber gloves immediately after to prevent it from being absorbed by the bed linen overnight.

If you’re entitled to free prescriptions you should be able to obtain emollient moisturiser from your GP, although it is widely available over the counter from pharmacies.

Even if you aren’t suffering from dry skin, moisturise anyway, as this will help to prevent the condition from occurring.

Avoid prolonged soakings

It may seem to be at odds with the problem of dry skin, but spending a long time in the bath or shower will actually only make the condition worse. You may be tempted by the luxurious warmth of a bath in colder weather, but prolonged exposure to water will cause damage to your skin cells, reducing their ability to retain moisture naturally in the epidermis. Reduce baths and showers to a minimum time, refrain from turning the heat up and always moisturise all over after drying.

Increase the humidity of your home

With the central heating on, the air in the home will quickly become dry which will make your skin drier and more prone to chapping and splitting. To help prevent this, it is necessary to increase the humidity of the air, for example, by purchasing a humidifier. These inexpensive electrical appliances inject a fine mist into the air, thereby increasing the humidity and relieving the symptoms of dry skin. Place a humidifier in each room that is well-used and remember to clean the unit frequently in accordance with the instructions to prevent the build-up of bacteria.

Exfoliate – all year!

Preparing your skin for winter should start much earlier in the year of course, to help it to withstand the sharpness of the cold air. Using an exfoliating wash – or creating one yourself, for example by grinding strawberries with lime juice – will help to unblock the pores in your skin, preventing the build-up of oil and encouraging healthy cell growth and replenishment. Healthier skin all year-round will be more capable of retaining moisture during winter, preventing the onset of dry skin symptoms and helping you to enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle.

For too many people, winter arrives with a sense of dread as they know that months of suffering are likely as their skin condition deteriorates. By taking positive steps to care for your skin, you can help it to retain its natural moisture and oils, so that it remains soft and supple throughout the winter months.