How to prevent this common winter skin condition for seniors

You’re not just imagining it: along with feeling drier in the winter, your skin may also be distractingly itchy too. It’s a recognized dermatological condition known as “winter itch” or “winter skin syndrome,” and according to a research study* for a major skin cream brand, six in 10 Americans suffer from it.

Given our cold winters, there’s no doubt that Canadians—and particularly older adults—are battling the symptoms of dry*, red, scaly and/or cracked skin after being out in the cold. You can most commonly feel it on your legs, but other body parts are also susceptible. Due to thinner skin and decreased sweat and oil glands, seniors are particularly at risk*.

So how do you prevent winter itch?

Moisturize with cream

Dr. Vincent Piguet, director of the Division of Dermatology at the University of Toronto, says that it can be as simple as faithfully moisturizing your skin* morning and night. He finds that many of us aren’t taking the time to apply a thick, fragrance-free cream—not a lotion—to our entire body twice a day. You can find a list of approved moisturizers* through the Canadian Dermatological Association.

Humidity is your friend

Will drinking more water also help? While it’s important for good health to keep hydrated, drinking a lot of water* isn’t necessarily going to help keep your skin moist. It’s more effective to use a humidifier* set between 45 to 60 per cent humidity to keep the itch at bay.

Showering the right way* is also important: there is often no need to use soap on all areas of your body every day; soap dries skin even further. Use a gentle cleanser with a built-in moisturizer, and remember to use a mild exfoliator no more than twice a week. Despite the temptation to warm your body in a hot, steamy shower, keep the temperature lukewarm.

Dress for the occasion

How you dress* when you’re out in the cold also affects the condition of your skin. Some winter fabrics, including wool, can irritate. Dress in layers, beginning with generally more well-tolerated silks and cottons, and then pull on heavier wool sweaters.

Use sunscreen in winter too

Just because we’re entering the grey days of winter doesn’t mean that you can skip the sunscreen. The Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation* recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

Finally, if you have any concerns about the condition of your skin, it’s important to see your family doctor or dermatologist regularly.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

  1. SWNS digital. "A Majority of Americans Suffer from Wintry Skin, Study Finds" (2021), Online:
  2. verrywellhealth. "What Is Winter Itch?" (2021), Online:
  3. National Institute on Aging. "Skin Care and Aging", Online:
  4. Toronto Star. "Moisturize skin twice a day and winter itch disappears" (2018), Online:
  5. Canadian Dermatology Association. "Skincare", Online:
  6. CBC. "10 tips from dermatologists for hydrated skin this winter"(2020), Online:
  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association. "HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR SKIN IN YOUR 60S AND 70S", Online:
  8. Canadian Dermatology Association. "How to keep fresh in the winter, from head to toe", Online:
  9. EVERYDAYHealth. "The Top 10 Tips for Healthy Winter Skin" (2021), Online:
  10. Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation. "Why do we wear sunscreen?", Online: