A dermatologist explains causes of itchy arms and legs during winter and what you can do about this.
“Winter itch is extremely common,” says Gary Goldenberg, MD, of Goldenberg Dermatology, and assistant professor of dermatology and pathology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
“It is caused by lack of skin moisture in cold, dry environments. It is particularly bad in patients who suffer from eczema and psoriasis.”
Eczema and psoriasis will cause visible changes to the skin, namely reddish or pink patches, bumps and scales.
Frequent aggressive scratching can cause the area to become crusty and leak fluid.
The itching can be so bad as to temp the sufferer to scratch with a hair brush — up and down the leg or arm. And it feels wonderful — as long as the scratching is in progress.
But soon after the scratching is stopped, the itching returns. There seemingly is no end to this winter itching.
Solutions to Wintertime Itchy Arms and Legs
“There are multiple things one can do to improve dry, flaky, itchy skin,” says Dr. Goldenberg.
“Applying moisturizer is extremely important. There are several products I recommend to my patients, including Cetaphil, Restoraderm, CeraVe lotion, and Kiehl’s Creme de Corps.
“Using a gentle cleanser instead of soap in the shower is also important. The shower should be quick and lukewarm, not hot.
“Using a humidifier in the bedroom while you are sleeping can also be very helpful. Interestingly, drinking more water does not seem to hydrate one’s skin.”
Beware also that wool clothing can make the arms itch, and wool socks can make the legs itch.
To keep warm in frigid outdoor winter air, instead of wearing wool you can try thermal “underwear.”
This thin material, made of polypropylene, is highly effective at insulating the body from very cold temperatures.
And yet one more solution to wintertime itching of the arms and legs is to loosely wrap the most affected areas with Ace bandaging — as this harmless barrier will discourage scratching.
Dr. Goldenberg of Goldenberg Dermatology provides comprehensive care in medical and cosmetic dermatology, including melanoma and other skin cancer, moles, psoriasis, eczema and acne. He is the medical director of the Dermatology Faculty Practice, NY.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.