ASK A TOP DOC: What Can I Do About My Dry Winter Skin and Chapped Lips?

Top Doctor Michael D. Cirigliano, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, shares his top five tips for a chapped-free winter

If you can’t brave the cold streets of Philadelphia without a ChapStick — or if you’re like me, two or three, with one stuffed into every bag, coat, or jeans pocket you own — you’re not the only scaly-skinned, chapped-lipped monster of the season. “We tend to see more dry skin and chapped lips in the winter because the air is dryer, the humidity is down, and it’s cold outside,” says Top Doctor Michael D. Cirigliano, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “Moisture evaporates from your skin into the air, and anytime your skin gets wet, the water evaporates into the air and takes any additional moisture with it.”

And dry, cracked skin is more than just painful and unattractive: “Your skin is the natural defense barrier against the outside world. Dry, cracked skin, especially if it bleeds, lowers your immunity,” warns Dr. Cirigliano. “Your defense system has been breached and you can pick up viruses and bacteria more easily.” Check out Dr. top five tips for a chapped-free winter below.

Read labels. If water is one of the first ingredients in the lotion or lip balm you’re using, toss it. “A lot of these products actually have a fairly high water content,” says Dr. Cirigliano. “The water then evaporates into the air, pulling moisture from your skin or lips with it.” The best types have zero water content, like petroleum jelly.

Put your tongue away. “The number one way to avoid chapped lips is to not lick them,” says Dr. Cirigliano. When you lick them, they’re moistened temporarily and then the water, once again, evaporates into the air, thus turning them into the two painful, crevice filled, peeling pieces of skin formally known as your lips.

Invest in a humidifier. A humidifier helps not only the sinuses, but also the skin: The more moisture you add to the air, the less inclined the air is to rob your skin of it. “Use a steam humidifier as apposed to a cool mist,” says Dr. Cirigliano. “Cold water can harbor bacteria, shooting it out into the air you’re breathing.”

Bundle up. “The dry air will certainly evaporate any moisture from exposed skin. The key in cold weather is to keep skin protected in layers of clothing and put things like petroleum jelly or chapstick on your lips,” says Dr. Cirigliano.

Resist the urge to pick. Or peel. Or scratch. "That is an absolute no-no,” says Dr. Cirigliano. “I’ve had patients who have picked things on their face and end up with a rip-roaring staph infection. You’re tearing away and breaking the skin barrier.”

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