Handle with Care: How to Treat Sensitive Skin in Winter

By Dr. Frank Lista, MD 



Why does the harsh winter aggravate problems like eczema and rosacea? Changes in temperature affect all skin types, but the winter tends to be particularly challenging for sensitive ones. Although rosacea and eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) are different conditions, they do share some symptoms, including redness—and bitter weather can be
a trigger for both disorders. As the temperature drops, so do moisture levels, and less humidity in the environment means there’s less moisture for your skin to absorb. This dryness is worsened by wind and electric heat stripping skin of much-needed moisture. As skin becomes progressively parched and its barrier function is impaired, eczema and rosacea sufferers often experience flare-ups. Most people will notice skin changes from season to season, but if you’re constantly battling marked redness and irritation, it may be time to see your doctor.

Can certain skincare ingredients make eczema and rosacea flare-ups worse? Yes! Common culprits include fragrance and alcohol, but specific allergens and irritants will vary from person to person, so it’s always a good idea to track which ingredients bother your skin and then avoid them. What works for one person may not work for another: for example, some eczema sufferers swear by witch hazel to improve the look of scaling and redness, while others report it causes flare-ups. It’s also important to note you may not need to shy away from “strong” ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids or retinol, which are popular in anti-aging skincare. Yes, these products are powerful, but in many individuals they can improve skin conditions, not irritate them. If you do suffer from sensitivities, make sure to conduct a patch test before trying a new product. You can do this on an area of the skin that tends to be reactive and sensitive, but is not super noticeable (for instance, the chin). Of course, discontinue use if you develop irritation.

What ingredients should people try instead for calming and preventing flare-ups? Using products that work to correct the pH balance of the skin will help normalize and regulate it. That’s because when pH levels are not balanced, the skin can become dry and flare-ups can occur. You should also look for anti-inflammatory ingredients, like aloe vera and camomile, and natural emollients, such as coconut and grape seed oil. Vitamins E, K, C and B can also help protect and fortify the look of the skin. But again, when you’re prone to rosacea and eczema, it’s super important to test ingredients to make sure they work for you.

If skin is irritated, when is it time to see a doctor? If you can’t isolate any triggers because everything seems to irritate the skin, it’s definitely time. 


Dr. Frank Lista, MD, is the founder and medical director of The Plastic Surgery Clinic, creator of the Miracle 10 line of skincare products. 


This article was originally published in the January/February 2015 issue of Cosmetics magazine. For more, download our iPad edition.