Cold Comforters : Bundling Up Can’t Stop Winter-Dry Skin, But ‘Occlusive’ Body Care Can Help

WHEN temperatures dipped to uncharacteristic lows recently, many Southern Californians experienced something even more unsettling than high heating bills: dry skin that flakes and itches.

Winter dryness, which can lead to problems such as eczema, is caused by environmental factors that pull moisture from the skin’s surface layer, the stratum corneum . When cold wind and low humidity dry the stratum corneum , the skin begins to flake and itch. This dryness can progress to deeper layers, resulting in redness and painful cracking. Eczema, an inflammation of the skin, is one of the most common results, says Dr. Patricia G. Engasser, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Facial creams and lip balms soothe skin above the neck. But in extremely cold weather, skin all over the body suffers, usually because people do not remember to moisturize it. Also, layers of cold-weather clothing can keep perspiration on the skin, and chapping can result.

Engasser says that the most effective body-care products are “occlusive” lotions, which remain on the skin’s surface to seal in moisture. Some occlusives, like petrolatum and pure lanolin, can leave an unpleasant coating on the skin, so most people prefer lighter, commercially formulated products such as Neutrogena Emulsion and Lubriderm.


Edward Marlowe, president of research and development for Lubriderm, says occlusives should be applied after a bath or shower, when the skin is still damp.

Many products are designed to be long-lasting. Emulsion, for example, promises eight hours of protection; Prescriptives Body Conscious is said to provide 24-hour care. “Consumers are well-educated about their skin. If they see something works longer, they come back for more,” says biochemist George Cioca, director of Prescriptives development for Estee Lauder.

Some products include sea-algae derivatives that manufacturers claim make the products more effective. There is seaweed in Dr. Geometti Iridea Moisture Cream, sold exclusively at Neiman-Marcus, and Body Conscious. Cioca adds that marine peptides keep the stratum corneum cells flexible and thus more elastic.

Mitchell Wortzman, director of Neutrogena scientific affairs, explains that lubricating is not enough in cold weather. “Long, hot baths and harsh cleansers disrupt the natural balance of the skin,” he says. “Those suffering from dry skin should cut back on daily baths,” Engasser adds.

The body may be under wraps during the cold months, but the payoff for year-round moisturizing is skin that is ready to bare when temperatures rise. Photographed by Liz Quesada; styling by Susan Connell.