Itchy Skin in Winter: How to Deal with Winter Rashes and Winter Itchiness

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

When winter arrives, it brings colds, allergies, and other weather-related health conditions. Winter rashes are one of the most commonly reported health conditions during winter, and children and adults are both susceptible.

In this article, we will explore the causes of itchy skin in winter and some tips for managing and preventing itchy skin and rashes during the cold months. We will also discuss the difference between winter rashes and itchiness and when to see a doctor for further evaluation and treatment.

What causes itchy skin in winter?

Several factors can cause winter itchiness and rashes. The major reason for rashes and itchiness during winter is that the cold, dry weather can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to irritation.

In addition, exposure to irritants such as wool or synthetic fibers in clothing, as well as soaps and other products, can cause the skin to become itchy.

For others, underlying medical conditions such as eczema or psoriasis may also be a factor. They can cause itchy skin year-round but may be exacerbated by winter’s dry, cold air.

Winter rashes and winter itchiness: What’s the difference?

Winter rashes and winter itchiness both describe skin irritation that occurs during the winter months. Being able to tell them apart is a common dermatology question. However, these two conditions are not the same thing. A winter rash occurs due to exposure to cold weather. This can make the skin red, inflamed, and itchy. Sometimes, a winter rash may also cause small bumps or blisters on the skin.

Wool clothing that can cause itchy skin in winter

A winter rash may also be asteatotic eczema. It’s a skin condition that occurs during the winter months. If you have seen winter rash pictures, you will notice it is characterized by dry, itchy, and flaky skin, often on the lower legs, arms, and torso. Winter rashes can be caused by a combination of factors, including:

  • Dry air
  • Changes in temperature
  • Allergies
  • Infections
  • Inflammatory skin diseases
  • Clothing

Other possible factors that can cause skin rashes are heating, sunburns, eczema, and sensitive skin. In most cases, winter rashes are not serious and can be treated with moisturizers and other skin care products. However, in some cases, it may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition and require medical treatment.

In contrast, skin itchiness can refer to any type of irritation or discomfort that you feel on your skin. Winter itchiness occurs during the winter months. While everyone experiences dryness to some degree during the winter, people with sensitive skin may experience more severe symptoms than others.

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The most common cause of winter itchiness is low humidity levels in indoor air and exposure to low temperatures. This combination dries out and causes itchy patches, flaking, or scaling on your skin, typically on your elbows, knees, hands, and feet. Other factors that may contribute to itchy skin include:

  • Wearing clothing that is too tight or made of materials that irritate the skin, such as wool or synthetic fibers
  • Using hot water or harsh soaps when washing, which can strip the skin of its natural oils
  • Taking long, hot showers or baths, which can also strip the skin of its natural oils
  • Using harsh or drying skin care products, such as alcohol-based toners or astringents

Unlike a winter rash, winter itchiness does not necessarily cause any visible changes to the skin.

How to prevent seasonal rashes

Itchy skin in winter can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience. There are several reasons why your skin may become itchy during the winter months, including dry air, changes in temperature, and the use of heating systems. Here are some tips on how to deal with winter rashes and winter itchiness:

  • Keep your skin moisturized: Dry air can strip moisture from your skin, making it itchy and prone to rash. Use a moisturizer regularly and consider using a humidifier in your home to add moisture to the air.
  • Avoid hot showers and baths: Hot water can further dry out your skin, making it even itchier. Use lukewarm water instead and avoid staying in the shower or bath for too long.
A woman applying moisturizer to her arms to prevent winter itchiness and rash
  • Use gentle, hypoallergenic soaps: Fragranced and harsh soaps can irritate your skin and make it itchier. Choose gentle, hypoallergenic soaps that are designed for sensitive skin.
  • Avoid scratching: Scratching may provide temporary relief but can also damage your skin and worsen the rash. If you can’t resist the urge to scratch, try using a cold compress or taking an anti-itch medication.
  • Protect your skin from the cold: Cold air can dry and irritate the skin. Wear gloves, a scarf, and a hat to protect your skin from the cold. Following these tips can prevent winter rashes and itchiness and keep your skin healthy and comfortable during the colder months.

Effective treatment options for winter itchiness and winter rashes

To treat winter itchiness and rashes, you may want to start with over-the-counter products. The most common winter itchiness treatment is to moisturize your skin regularly. If you have eczema, you may need to use an application with cortisone cream to reduce inflammation and itching.

You can also try taking ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and pain if you have an allergy that causes an itchy rash.

Other things you can do to treat winter itchiness include the following:

  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home.
  • Avoid hot showers and baths, which can strip moisture from your skin. Instead, use lukewarm water and limit your shower time.
  • Use a gentle, fragrance-free soap or cleanser.
  • Moisturize your skin regularly with a thick, oil-based moisturizer, such as petroleum jelly or a product containing ceramides.
  • Avoid irritants, such as wool clothing, and harsh detergents, which can dry your skin.
  • Wear gloves when washing dishes or cleaning to protect your hands from drying out.
  • Apply a moisturizing lotion or cream to your skin immediately after drying off from a shower or bath while your skin is still damp.

It’s also important to talk to your doctor if your winter itchiness is severe or doesn’t improve with self-care measures. They can recommend other treatment options, such as prescription creams or ointments to help relieve your symptoms.

When to see a doctor

Seeing a doctor if you’re experiencing persistent or severe itchy skin during the winter is always a good idea. Itchy skin may sometimes signify a more serious underlying condition, such as eczema, psoriasis, or an allergy. A primary health care provider or dermatologist can help to determine the cause of your symptoms and provide appropriate treatment. Here are some signs that you should see a doctor for your itchy skin:

  • The itchiness is severe or getting worse.
  • The itchiness is interfering with your daily activities.
  • You have open sores or lesions on your skin.
  • Other symptoms, such as fever, swelling, or redness, accompany the itchiness.
  • You have a history of skin conditions or allergies.

If you’re unsure whether you should see a doctor for your itchy skin, it’s always better to be cautious and consult with a medical professional. They can provide personalized advice and treatment options based on your specific situation.

Final thoughts

Itchy skin and seasonal rashes in winter can be common and frustrating problems. Dry air, changes in temperature, and the use of heating systems can all contribute to winter rashes and winter itchiness. To help alleviate these symptoms, it’s important to keep your skin moisturized, avoid hot showers and baths, use gentle, hypoallergenic soaps, avoid scratching, and protect your skin from the cold. If your itchy skin persists or is severe, it’s always a good idea to see a doctor or eczema dermatologist for further evaluation and treatment. Following these tips can help keep your skin healthy and comfortable during the winter months.

March 1, 2023