Not long ago, I was speaking with a nurse who asked, "What can I do about my dry, itchy skin? Do I need medication?" Kim, who has many years of health-care experience, continued: "This seems to happen every winter, especially as I get older."

After we talked a bit, I found out that Kim lived in an apartment with forced, hot-air heat, but had no humidifier. She also liked to take long, hot showers (at night and in the morning) and often used a scented antibacterial soap. Then, to keep warm and comfortable, she would wear woolen sweaters and socks.

Unfortunately, winter is the season for dry skin and chapped lips because lower air temperatures and low humidity result in drier air. The dryness is made worse by forced, hot-air heating in homes and offices. The dry air causes skin to lose more moisture and become itchy.

As we age, winter dryness becomes worse because the natural oil layer in our skin (which protects it from losing moisture) is depleted. Frequent baths or showers further removes this protective oil layer, and the cycle of winter-dry skin continues.

Flaky Means Dry Skin, Right?

With apologies to Dr. Mom, the most common cause of itchiness (without a rash) is dry skin. In fact, the most common symptom of dry skin is that itchy feeling, not the dry-skin flakes. Just because your skin is flaky, doesn't mean it's dry. A common example is seborrhea, a skin condition where the skin is flaky and oily, not dry.

Stop the Itch!

If your skin is itchy for no obvious reason, try using a moisturizer before visiting your health-care professional. Moisturizers add a protective oil layer to your skin and decrease the amount of moisture lost to dry air. You don't need to use fancy or expensive moisturizer. Sometimes simpler is better because "special" added ingredients may not result in any benefit to your skin, even though the hype of the product may sound great!