For many people, the winter time brings itchy skin, often referred to as Winter Itch. It may or may not come with a rash - small, low-grade bumps. But the most obvious symptom is the itchiness.
The biggest cause of winter itch is dry skin. Less humidity in the air and cold temperatures certainly contribute to dry skin but many of us add to the problem with long hot showers or baths. Hot water strips your skin of essential oils, drying out the outer layer of the skin and with it, decreasing the moisture in the lower layers of the skin. Soap and other chemicals can also add to the dryness.
To help soothe dry, winter skin:
- Cut showers down to a maximum of 10 minutes and don’t take more than one shower every 24 hours.
- Lower the temperature of your shower or bath. While hot water is more relaxing, it also dries out your skin.
- Use moisturizing shower products and use fragrance and dye free mild soaps.
- When done your shower, pat dry and liberally apply moisturizer.
- Use a humidifier to offset dry winter heat inside your home
- Wear soft, comfortable clothing
Other Causes of Winter Rashes
While dry skin is the most common cause of winter rashes/itchiness, there can be other causes:
- Contact with latex or rubber
- Sensitivity to products or ingredients in your soap, laundry soap or cosmetics. Remember, manufacturers can change ingredients so just because you didn’t used to be sensitive to certain products, don’t completely rule them out until you are sure.
- Reaction to medications, including over-the-counter medications
- Viral, bacterial or fungal infections.
To find out what is causing your rash, Dr. Alisa Hideg suggests "ruling things out one at a time."  Remove one product to see if your rash improves. If it doesn’t, you can continue using that product and discontinue another one. You may also want to switch to using dye-free and fragrance-free products.
When to See a Doctor
For most people, at home remedies such as the ones outlined previously for dry skin will help to improve Winter Itch. But you should check with the doctor if:
- Your rash doesn’t go away or worsens with home remedies
- You have joint pain, fever or a sore throat along with the rash
- Your rash is red, swollen or tender
- You developed the rash shortly after starting a new medication
Your doctor will be able to determine if your itchiness/rash needs medical treatment or can suggest some additional home remedies to help relieve the itchiness.
For more information:
 "What is Triggering a Winter Rash," Date Unknown, Dr. Alisa Hideg, GroupHealth.org
"Winter Dry Skin," Reveiwed 2005, Staff Writer, University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics