Alert: Winter cold spells can lead to extra dry skin

The onset of cooler, dry outdoor air of the winter months produces increased indoor drying stresses on your skin. As a result, people use moisturizing lotions and creams as well as room humidifiers to minimize the formation of dry skin. However, when a major cold front or a “Polar Vortex” event occurs, it can really disrupt your skin care!

Why do winter cold fronts increase the risk of dry skin?

Most of the news surrounding a winter cold front will focus on reduced temperatures and wind-chill factors, yet the indoor environment will be impacted too–including your skin care. Why would this be? First of all, as the cold front hits, the water vapor content of outdoor air can drop dramatically along with temperature. These changes result in lower indoor humidities as the dry air seeps into much warmer houses. Second, to reduce your heating bill you may want to turn the thermostat down a bit (this is a good thing), but the lower indoor temperature and humidity will actually increase the drying stresses on your skin. Third, you can’t sense the magnitude of these dermal drying stresses, and consequently, you may not think about the need to hydrate skin. The final, surprising result for many people, including those with aging skin, is the formation of unexpected dry, rough, or flaky skin!

How can you adapt your skin care to weather events?

To help address the dermal indoor stresses brought on by a major winter cold system, think about the potential increases in the indoor drying stresses on your skin and plan on using extra skin moisturizers as well as a room humidifier to counteract the dermal stresses.

Dermidia also offers the DSI Sense sensor device plus smartphone app that constantly tracks the Dry Skin Index, which is a measure of indoor drying stresses caused by changes in temperature and relative humidity. With the DSI Sense, you won’t be caught off-guard by weather events that alter indoor conditions impacting your skin. This feature may be particularly valuable to people whose skin is prone to seasonal dryness.


  • When a major cold front hits, we think of the temperatures and wind chill factors because they make the headlines. Nevertheless, the indoor environment is impacted as well–including our skin care!
  • Anticipate the changes in the indoor drying stresses on your skin as the cold front passes, and compensate by applying moisturizing creams and lotions to areas of your skin that are prone to dryness. Room humidifiers are also useful because they can help hydrate skin when moisturizers alone may not be enough.
  • Consider getting a DSI Sense to monitor skin stressors so that you can proactively manage your skin care in response to changes in the weather.

What levels of the Dry Skin Index initiate dry-skin formation?

A fundamental issue impacting our personal skin care is the inability to sense the magnitude of drying stresses on skin. This really inhibits the timely and effective use of skin moisturizers and/or humidifier. The Dry Skin Index (DSI) measures these stresses, which are conveniently monitored using Dermidia’s DSI Sense + smartphone app. But what levels of the Dry Skin Index might trigger dry-skin formation?

The Dry Skin Index is broken down into five stress categories ranging from very low to very high. Previously we identified the optimum relative humidity associated hydrated skin, but not the DSI levels at which people should begin to hydrate skin. Fortunately, data derived from a study by Jin et al. (2021) allows us to identity key threshold levels.

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When should you turn on a humidifier to hydrate your skin?

Each year people in the USA conduct Internet searches on Google for the term “humidifier” [see chart below]. These searches are seasonal in nature and coincide with the drying trends in the weather that impact indoor air. Internet searches for “humidifier” are also seasonally correlated with searches for “dry skin”, which makes sense because people use humidifiers to deal with dry skin and other conditions related to dry indoor air. Depending on your situation, you can decide to turn on your humidifier when:

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Treat dry skin to reduce proinflammatory cytokines contributing to age-related diseases

Keeping your skin hydrated as you age is necessary to maintain your skin’s barrier function and inhibit the formation of dry skin. Research now indicates that a collateral benefit of hydrating skin care is a reduction in proinflammatory cytokines circulating in blood. These agents in blood plasma have been associated with inflammaging, which is low level, subclinical inflammation prevalent in aging populations.

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Water Vapor Levels in Air and Your Skin

We know that water vapor in outdoor air continually enters a residence and changes the level of indoor relative humidity. Consequently, there should be a direct connection between local weather conditions, for example the concentration of water vapor in outdoor air, and people’s tendency to have dry skin caused by exposures to indoor humidity and temperature stressors.

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