Can Winter Cause Itchy Skin? Exploring Cold Weather Effects

Written by: Anne Hartley


There's a crispness in the air, snowflakes are beginning to fall, and you're bundled up by the fire with hot cocoa - winter has arrived! But just as you're trying to get into a festive mood, it's not uncommon to experience skin irritation from the cool seasonal change! So, if you've ever wondered, "Can winter cause itchy skin?" - then this article is for you.

We'll explore why cold weather can turn our skin from soft and supple into dry and scratchy. We won't just stop there; we'll delve into how everyday habits like taking long hot showers or cranking up indoor heating systems can compound these problems. Trust me, understanding these factors makes all the difference in enjoying this favorite time of year!

And we're not just going to learn about prevention. If those annoying itchies have already set in, we'll also discuss how to bring some immediate relief. It's all about following an effective winter skincare routine!

Understanding Winter Itch and Its Causes

If you've ever asked yourself, "Can winter cause itchy skin?" the answer is a resounding yes. Known as 'winter itch,' this condition tends to appear during colder months when humidity levels drop and dry air leaves your skin less comfortable.

Defining Winter Itch

Winter itch is more than a minor irritation; it's an ongoing sensation that drives you to scratch continually. The symptoms can range from mild discomfort to intense itching, leaving unsightly scratch marks if not addressed properly. An article in Houston Methodist Leading Medicine points out that dry indoor air caused by heating systems in cold weather further exacerbates these symptoms.

The typical sites for winter itch include legs, arms, and hands, where the skin may appear healthy but is actually parched due to poor circulation or lack of natural oils. In severe cases, constant scratching can lead to more serious conditions like eczema or infections due to breaks in the skin barrier.

The Role of Cold Weather

Cold air is a key player in causing winter itch because, unlike warm summer months, when humidity keeps our skin moisturized naturally, chilly winds strip away moisture, making us susceptible to dryness and subsequent itching.

This drying effect extends indoors, too, thanks largely due to heaters which suck up any remaining moisture from the room, leaving your living spaces with super dry conditions. Indoor heat coupled with long hot showers (which seems like a good idea at the time) removes essential oils from our body, which weakens the skin barrier - making the skin susceptible to common irritants.

Common Skin Conditions in Winter

Although winter may bring delightful festivities and snowscapes, it can also bring a lot of unwelcome skin conditions. As we've already learned, the most common skin condition is commonly referred to as "winter itch" - or pruritus hiemalis.

This is a type of dermatitis that typically appears during cold weather and mainly affects the legs but isn't limited to them. The combination of cold air outside and dry indoor heating creates an environment that's hard on your skin. The reason isn't well understood, but the more severe itchiness often occurs at night.

Asteatotic Eczema: A Cold Weather Nemesis

If you've experienced a more extreme skin condition - like dry, cracked, and scaly skin - you may be dealing with asteatotic eczema, also known as xerotic eczema or eczema craquelé. This common skin condition can affect people of any age but is particularly prevalent in older adults. Look out for the common signs of this condition, including dry, scaly skin, cracks and fissures, itching, redness, and inflammation.

What causes asteatotic eczema? Several factors contribute to its development. Aging, exposure to environmental conditions such as cold and dry weather, excessive washing or bathing in hot water that strips the skin of its natural oils, and harsh soaps or detergents all can play a role. Additionally, individuals with a history of atopic dermatitis or other eczematous conditions may be more prone to asteatotic eczema.

Factors Contributing to Winter Itch

The winter season brings about an array of changes, and unfortunately for many, one is itchy skin. But why does this happen? Let's delve into the key contributors.

The Impact of Indoor Heating

You may find comfort from the cold weather by cranking up your indoor heating system, but unknowingly, you might exacerbate this dry skin condition. Indoor heaters, while cozy and warm, can also dry out the air and contribute to dry skin. They pull moisture from our surroundings, including our bodies, leaving us parched. 

Try using a portable humidifier - especially in your bedroom. Or maybe look into a "whole-home" humidifier that attaches to your furnace and uses steam to increase moisture levels throughout your home. The AprilAire 800 model is a very popular choice!

Your Skin’s Cry For Moisture

During the winter months, the dry air can wreak havoc on our skin, causing it to become dry and itchy. This occurs because there is less humidity in the air, which means less moisture for our skin to absorb. Additionally, cold weather, hot showers, and harsh ingredients can also cause the natural oils in our skin to diminish, leaving us vulnerable to dryness and irritation.

To combat these effects, it is important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and to moisturize regularly with a thick, hydrating lotion. It is also a good idea to avoid taking long, hot showers, as this can further strip the skin of its natural oils. To ensure that your skin stays healthy and moisturized throughout the winter, take these preventative measures and listen to your skin's needs.

Lifestyle Factors

Our lifestyle choices can also contribute to itchy winter skin. For example, when we wear scratchy wool or some synthetic fabrics, this can irritate dry skin. Additionally, our nutrition choices can also play a role in the health of our skin. A diet lacking in healthy fats, such as omega-3s, can lead to dryness and irritation. It's important to be mindful of what we wear and eat during these dry winter months to ensure our skin stays healthy and comfortable.

Key Takeaways:

If Winter Itch is putting a damper on your holiday spirit, it's time to replenish moisture in your skin. Try taking lukewarm showers and applying moisturizer while your pores are still open. And don't forget to avoid harsh that may irritate your skin, like wool.

Tips for Preventing and Treating Winter Itch

Winter itch can be a pesky problem, but with the right approach and skin care products, it's entirely manageable. As cold air doesn't hold much moisture and indoor heating systems tend to dry out the environment further, your skin will likely become dry and itchy - and the key is prevention with these winter skin care tips.

Importance of a Consistent Skincare Routine

Taking care of your skin during the winter months is incredibly important to avoid winter itch and dry, flaky skin. As a general rule, don't use hot water throughout your morning and nightly routine - opt for lukewarm water instead, as this will help retain the natural oils of your skin.

The first step in creating an effective winter skin care routine is to cleanse your face both morning and night with a gentle face wash that removes impurities while keeping your skin moist with ingredients like honey and jojoba oil.

After cleansing, use a hydration serum that contains aloe vera and hyaluronic acid to provide essential vitamins and nutrients to your skin. Serums are a great choice as they are lighter, contain multiple skin-loving ingredients, absorb quickly into the skin quickly - so they can be used throughout the day.

And now, for one of the most critical winter season skincare steps - keep your skin hydrated throughout the day by using various types of moisturizers. For your face, opt for a lighter moisture therapy cream with vitamin E and shea butter to keep your face hydrated without clogging pores. For your body, hands, and feet, avoid light lotions and opt instead for heavier moisturizers with a generous consistency, like a hand therapy cream.

Finally, to keep your skin healthy, it's important to exfoliate - but limit this to once or twice a week. And be sure not to use harsh products as they will strip away the good with the bad. A purifying charcoal mask will gently pull toxins and dead cells from your skin, while nourishing with grapeseed oil, vitamin C, and jojoba oil.

Protect Your Skin with Sunscreen

Although it may be tempting to skip sunscreen during the colder months, it is important to remember that harmful UV rays are still present even on cloudy, overcast days. Applying SPF30 sunscreen throughout the day during winter can be crucial in protecting your skin and keeping it healthy. 


Constant exposure to the sun can lead to dry skin, premature aging, wrinkles, and even skin cancer. So, it is important to make applying sunscreen a part of your winter routine and keep your skin protected all year round. 

Effective Treatments for Winter Itch

Although prevention with your daily skincare routine is always preferred, treatments can immediately relieve and soothe the uncomfortable itching sensation. I know this goes without saying - but try not to scratch. While it may bring some immediate relief, it will likely worsen the situation - causing the itch to spread and become more intense.

First, start by moisturizing the affected areas with a fragrance-free cream. You can follow this with a dab of petroleum jelly to the affected area - as this will help lock in moisture and keep the area protected.

Try applying a cold compress to the itchy skin for quick relief, take a warm oatmeal bath (with optional baking soda), or use a humidifier, all options for easing skin dryness and winter itch. If itching persists, you can try an over-the-counter anti-itch cream that contains hydrocortisone or calamine. Your dermatologist may prescribe a stronger solution if none of these tactics work for you.

Also, avoid irritating substances such as harsh soaps or detergents, which can exacerbate dryness, and remember to wear lightweight clothing made of natural fabrics that let your skin breathe and prevent poor circulation caused by tight outfits.

Key Takeaways:

Winter itch is a common but manageable problem caused by dry conditions both outdoors and indoors. Prevent it with a consistent skincare routine, including moisturizing, gentle washing techniques, and sunscreen use even in winter. To treat existing winter itch, apply hydrating creams gently to avoid causing more irritation. Also, make sure you're avoiding harsh soaps or detergents that could worsen the condition.

Winter Itchy Skin FAQs

Why does my skin get itchy in winter?

Winter often leads to itchy skin due to the low humidity levels both outside and inside (due to heating systems). This dry environment strips the skin of its natural moisture, leading to dryness and itchiness.

Can cold weather cause skin rashes?

Yes, cold weather can exacerbate certain skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis and even cause a specific condition known as cold urticaria, where hives are formed on the skin after exposure to cold.

How can I prevent my skin from getting dry and itchy in winter?

To prevent dry and itchy skin in winter, moisturize regularly with thick creams or ointments, use a humidifier to add moisture to indoor air, take shorter, lukewarm showers, and wear protective clothing when outdoors.

Is it normal for my skin to be more sensitive in the winter?

Yes, it's normal. Due to the dry and harsh conditions of winter, the skin's barrier function can be compromised, leading to increased sensitivity.

What are the best types of moisturizers for winter itch?

Thick, oil-based moisturizers and ointments are typically best for winter itch. Look for products containing ceramides, glycerin, or hyaluronic acid, which help retain skin moisture.

Can winter itch be a sign of a more serious condition?

While winter itch is usually just a response to the dry environment, persistent or severe itching could be a sign of a skin condition like eczema or dermatitis, or even systemic conditions like kidney disease or diabetes. It's advisable to consult a healthcare provider if symptoms are severe or don't improve with home care.

Are there any dietary changes that can help with winter skin problems?

Staying hydrated and maintaining a balanced diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts) and antioxidants (found in fruits and vegetables) can support skin health.

Can changing my bathing habits help with itchy winter skin?

Yes, taking shorter showers with lukewarm water, using gentle, fragrance-free cleansers, and applying moisturizer immediately after bathing can help maintain skin moisture.

Should I see a doctor for itchy skin in winter?

If home remedies don't relieve your symptoms, or if the itch is severe, widespread, or accompanied by other symptoms like redness or swelling, it's a good idea to see a healthcare provider.

Can indoor heating contribute to winter itch?

Yes, indoor heating systems can reduce humidity levels indoors, contributing to dry air, which can further dry out the skin and exacerbate itching.

Why is my skin so itchy in winter?

Cold, dry air zaps moisture from your skin. This, coupled with indoor heating, can lead to dehydration, making your skin scratchy and itchy.

How do you stop a winter rash from itching?

Maintain consistent skincare routines and use hydrating lotions. Avoid hot showers as they strip oils off the skin. If needed, consult a dermatologist.

What is the best lotion for itchy skin in winter?

Curel Ultra Healing Intensive Lotion or Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Unscented Lotion are great options to help relieve general body itchiness during winter.

Can a change of weather cause body itching?

Absolutely. Weather shifts affect humidity levels, which influence our skin's health. Sudden temperature drops can lead to dryness and itchiness.


Winter can indeed cause itchy skin. The cold, arid atmosphere depletes our skin of its natural oils and moisture, which in turn causes itching.

Indoor heating systems or long hot showers are often culprits, too. They exacerbate dryness, leading to itchiness.

But there's hope! Prevention is key: adopt a consistent skincare routine with products designed for winter use. For those already suffering from winter itch, at-home treatments like moisturizing creams, over-the-counter anti-itch ointments, and humidifiers can help bring relief.

Take steps to protect your skin from the winter's harshness and you're well on your way towards healthier, happier skin - even in the coldest months of the year!