Here's Why Cold Weather Makes You Itchy And What You Can Do About It

'Tis the season — and not just for the holidays. It will soon be the time of year when people who have the good sense to live in a year-round warm climate have the questionable sense to visit friends and family members in cold-weather cities. Even before the visitors unpack their warm clothing, they're often delighted to reveal all the pre-emptive moves they made to steel themselves against the cold weather: vitamin C or zinc tablets, supplements, throat lozenges, eye drops, and their sipping beverage of choice. It can be quite a haul.

If they're diligent, and maybe a little lucky, they'll sidestep some of the potential risks Healthline says dry, chilly air can trigger in the human body: cold or flu, sore throat, nosebleeds, dry eyes, and dehydration. There's one malady they may not be so lucky to avoid, even if they do their best to dress warm: dry skin, whether it shows itself on the face, hands, or arms. It doesn't take long, and it doesn't take repeated exposures, for cold air to feel like it's taking tiny bites out of the skin.

Even if you regularly deal with cold weather, you're wise to take the time to understand the link between cold weather and dry skin, the symptoms (besides itchiness) it can spawn, and the other conditions it can lead to. With a 360-degree view, taking certain steps to combat itchy skin can soon become second nature.

Dermatitis takes several forms

Cold, dry air makes your skin itchy for one basic reason: the air drains moisture from your skin, changing the texture from soft to dry, rough, and itchy, Cleveland Clinic says. Dry skin can be uncomfortable enough when it's a mild case; when it's a severe case, the skin can crack open and bleed. Then you must be alert to contracting an infection through the open wounds.

In addition to redness and itching, you may experience other symptoms, such as flaking, blisters, and inflammation. The medical term is dermatitis, which you may wish to think of as a large umbrella known as "skin irritation" with specific types of irritations underneath it. In addition to a winter rash, dermatitis can lead to rosacea, which causes tiny, red bumps to emerge on the skin, Medical News Today says. Many people who get rosacea often develop it on their faces. Psoriasis is often confused with eczema, which can also resemble a rash. This is why a diagnosis is best left to the discerning eye of a dermatologist, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Cold urticaria is a skin condition that results in itchy hives, Mayo Clinic says. It appears rather quickly after exposure to the cold, and perhaps the only good thing about it is that it usually lasts no more than two hours.

The common denominator in all these conditions is dry skin, making it easy to see that moisturizer is a must-have commodity.

Take other proactive steps

Applying a rich, penetrating moisturizer several times a day (after showering or bathing and as needed) may be your most important proactive step. Or you may prefer to use coconut, avocado, or safflower oil to lubricate your skin, Medical News Today says. Whichever soothing tactic you choose, it will pack more staying power if it's backed up by other good habits. For example, taking short, lukewarm baths and showers are better for dry skin than taking long, hot baths and showers, WebMD says.

Your skin will retain more moisture this way. Using a mild cleaner is smart, too, so that you don't deplete any more oil from your skin than necessary. Dry skin needs essential oils, which is why it makes sense to suspend your exfoliating habit until your skin rebounds.

If exposure to cold air teaches you nothing else, it's that the skin can be sensitive to temperature changes. This is why you might consider turning down the heat overnight (warm air can draw moisture from the air, too) and keep your indoor humidity level between 30 and 50%, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says. Even after making this adjustment, you may benefit from plugging in a portable humidifier overnight to counteract dryness in the air. It's easy to question the veracity of these little powerhouses until you can find no other reason why that nagging sore throat has suddenly disappeared — with the season.