How can I keep my nose moist when I have a cold?

woman blowing nose with tissue
A chapped nose can be one of the worst parts of having a cold. See pictures of ways to get beautiful skin.
Pando Hall/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Unless you have a real affinity for watching daytime television on NyQuil, there's nothing fun about having a cold. People eye you warily with each sniffle, convinced you'll spread your dreaded disease to anyone within a 2-inch radius. You're charged with drinking fluids, a deed that may make it impossible to rest if you have a small bladder. But if your bladder doesn't keep you awake, the constant coughing and sneezing probably will. And even the most beautiful starlets can't pull off cold and flu glamour -- nothing makes bloodshot eyes, a deathlike complexion or a red, cracked nose look attractive.

That red nose may be the biggest insult to a cold sufferer, as the only acceptable occasions for red noses are those in which clowns or Santa's head reindeer, Rudolph, are present. It's more than aesthetics, of course; that dry, cracked skin makes blowing a mucus-filled nose excruciatingly painful. Is there a way to keep that nasal skin moist so that using a tissue doesn't feel like scraping nails across one's skin?


Before we get into how to keep a nose moisturized during cold and flu season, let's review a little bit about how that area gets so inflamed. Winter is hard on your nose's small blood vessels. If you go outside into frigid temperatures, the blood vessels clamp down, which minimizes blood flow to the region and causes irritation [source: Lerche Davis]. Then, once you head inside, your blood vessels open back up. That doesn't cure the irritation, it simply makes the area more sensitive to pain. Further complicating matters, there's little moisture in the air during the winter, so already the nasal area is at a disadvantage when it comes to accumulating much-needed moisture. The dry air breaks down what little protection that sensitive skin has.

That's the situation for every nose in winter temperatures, but when you add in a runny nose during cold and flu season, it only gets worse. A runny nose further aggravates those blood vessels, already so sensitive to temperature changes and dry air. With each wipe of a tissue, you exacerbate the pain. So what's to be done?


Moisturizing Your Nose

There's a saying in sports that the best offense is a good defense. The same holds true for moisturizing your skin. Don't wait until you get a cold, complete with a nose rubbed raw, to show your nasal area a little TLC. Throughout the winter, you should drink lots of water, wear a moisturizer complete with SPF and wear a scarf that covers your face when you're heading outside.

Once a cold does strike, double up on the water so that your skin can be moisturized from within. To protect the moisture on the skin's surface, don't settle for anything less than lotion-infused tissues to blow your nose. That means no toilet paper, no paper towels. Too often, cold sufferers only reach for the good tissues once their nose is chapped, but as soon as you feel the urge to blow, stock up on the good stuff.


Though it may seem like a long steamy shower will open your nasal passages and nip that cold in the bud, it will only damage your skin once you step into the cool air [source: Lerche Davis]. Instead, use lukewarm water when you wash and use a saline nasal spray to moisturize your mucus membranes. You may find a vaporizer or a humidifier eases that chapped, painful feeling, but be mindful of health and safety concerns. A vaporizer could cause burns, and a humidifier must be regularly cleaned so that bacteria and mold don't form and cause further respiratory ills.

Of course, you should always use a moisturizer, but you may want to use more if you have a cold, as it's your best bet for relieving skin irritation thanks to frequent nose blowing. Look for a humectant moisturizer, which will draw moisture to the skin's surface and heal any redness or rawness. Petroleum jelly will work in a pinch, but don't use it too frequently on the skin right under your nose. Though it's rare, putting petroleum jelly in that location could lead to lipid pneumonia if you inhale the jelly into your lungs [source: Gibson]. A simple water-based moisturizer will work just fine.

For more on finding a good moisturizer and for other tips on taking care of your skin through all seasons, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Cold and Flu Questions

  • "Battling Old Man Winter." CBS. Jan. 8, 1999. (Dec. 29, 2009)
  • Bouchez, Colette. "Covering Up Cold and Flu Symptoms: Beauty Tips." WebMD. (Dec. 29, 2009)
  • Brody, Jane E. "Saving Your Skin When Winter Attacks." New York Times. Feb. 13, 2001. (Dec. 29, 2009)
  • Gibson, Lawrence E. "Petroleum Jelly: Safe for a Dry Nose?" Mayo Clinic. Nov. 25, 2008. (Dec. 29, 2009)
  • Lerche Davis, Jeanie. "The Rewards of Pampering Your Nose." WebMD. March 20, 2008. (Dec. 29, 2009)
  • O'Connor, Anahad. "The Claim: Never Blow Your Nose When You Have a Cold." New York Times. Feb. 10, 2009. (Dec. 29, 2009)
  • Singer, Natasha. "Help Skin Survive a Cruel Season." New York Times. Jan. 5, 2006. (Dec. 29, 2009)
  • Sweeney, Camille. "It's Cold and Your Skin is Suffering. So What Are You Doing to Moisturize?" New York Times. Feb. 5, 2009. (Dec. 29, 2009)