As the weather gets colder, the air becomes drier and causes our skin to dry out as well. If you see a white sheen to your skin or when you scratch the skin and white flaky skin comes off, these are signs of dry skin. Other things that can exacerbate dry skin include turning on the heater and our showering habits. In general, longer and hotter showers (as well as drying soaps) take oil out of the skin, causing it to dry out. When the skin is first dry, not much happens, but gradually the skin becomes itchy and later can start to get inflamed causing different forms of eczema.
There are different things you can do to prevent dry, itchy skin. Use a humidifier when possible. Keep showers short (about 5-10 minutes) and use lukewarm water. Do not shower more than once a day. Avoid drying soaps such as antibacterial soaps and use instead, moisturizing soaps or non-soap cleansers such as Cetaphil or Aveeno cleansers. Moisturize with a thicker cream while the skin is still damp after showering. This will help seal in the water that has been absorbed into the skin. Oils are helpful right after showering while the skin is still damp. However, if you have dry skin, oils do not moisturize the skin; they act as barriers to prevent moisture from leaving the skin.
If dry skin becomes itchy, first try moisturizing multiple times a day and try an over-the-counter cortisone cream 3-4 times a day to the affected areas. Oral anti-histamines, generally, are not very helpful for itchy skin but if you feel itchiness all over, regular antihistamine use can help somewhat control it. I would recommend Benadryl 25 mg nightly and/or a non-drowsy antihistamine such as Zyrtec 10 mg every morning. If these measures aren’t enough to control the itching, consult with your dermatologist who can prescribe stronger topical steroids and non-steroids, stronger oral antihistamines and if very severe, even oral or administer injectable steroids.