How to Deal With Itchy, Irritated Chapped Skin

What to do when your skin needs some TLC. 

Skin tends to be dry this time of year, but when it turns red, raw, and painful, that’s another story. This happens when skin is extra parched—whether due to the lower humidity in the air or excessive hand washing. “What starts as tiny tears in the skin leads to larger ones or chapping,” says Melanie Palm, a dermatologist in Solana Beach, California. Here’s how to get some relief (and prevent further problems). 

1

For Immediate Relief

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Photo by Vadim Ponomarenko/Getty Images

Apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, like Aveeno 1 Percent Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream, to chapped areas twice daily for one to two weeks. “This anti-inflammatory agent removes redness and soothes minor irritation or itching,” says Palm. If the areas are open, crusting, or intensely painful, consult a dermatologist. “Cracked skin is prone to infection and may require an antibiotic,” says Emily Wise, a dermatologist in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

2

To Prevent Chapping

Avoid extended exposure to hot water when showering or washing dishes, and when you clean the affected areas, use a fragrance-free nonsoap cleanser, like Avene XeraCalm A.D. Lipid-Replenishing Cleansing Oil. Then, twice a day, apply a fragrance- and dye- free ointment (try Aquaphor)—it will seal in moisture better than a lotion or a cream. (If using a hydrocortisone or steroid cream, apply that first, then the ointment.) While healing, take a break from products and tools that strip the skin barrier or may cause irritation, like glycolic and salicylic acids, motorized cleansing brushes, retinols, and scrubs.