Winter Rash: Effects and Skin Care in Colder Months

Cold, dry air can cause dry skin and worsen skin conditions

Medically reviewed by Brendan Camp, MD

Cold, dry winter air can extract moisture from your skin, causing a winter rash to appear on the face, hands, legs, and any other skin exposed to the cold. Steps that you take to warm up, like hot showers and indoor heating, can also make a winter dry skin rash worse because they also dry out the skin.

A cold rash can look like tiny bumps on the skin, redness, or hives. Luckily, moisturizing and other skin care routines can help, although some people will need to see a healthcare provider to address winter rash.

Continue reading to learn more about winter rash and to see winter rash pictures. The article will cover why winter dry skin rash happens, and how to treat a cold rash.

<p>Ivan Kryvoshei / Getty Images</p>

Ivan Kryvoshei / Getty Images

The Link Between Winter and Rashes

Winter rashes are usually triggered by dry skin. Dry skin can occur at any time of the year, but it’s more common in winter, just like other health conditions that thrive in cold, dry air. Factors that can draw moisture from the skin and/or cause irritation include:

  • Cold air outdoors and strong winter winds

  • Warm dry heated air indoors

  • Hot showers or baths

  • Certain fabrics, such as wool

In winter, you might need to adjust your skin care routine to account for the dryness of the air.

In addition to regular dry skin, specific skin conditions can get worse during the winter, including:

  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is a chronic skin condition that’s often worse in the winter. People with atopic dermatitis have skin that lacks a protein that keeps moisture in, so they’re more prone to dry skin.

  • Winter hives (cold urticaria) is a rare allergic reaction triggered by exposure to cold temperatures.

  • Psoriasis is often worse in the winter since cold temperatures and changes in humidity can trigger symptoms.

  • Asteatotic eczema, a type of eczema caused by dry skin; it tends to be worse in the winter because it is exacerbated by low humidity.

Symptoms: Do I Have a Winter Rash?

The main symptom of winter rash is dry, itchy skin. This is sometimes called winter itch, or pruritus hiemalis. The symptoms of winter rash can include:

  • Red skin

  • Itchiness

  • Scaly skin

  • Bleeding or cracking skin, in severe cases

Existing Skin Conditions

Winter weather can also make the symptoms of existing skin conditions worse. For example, symptoms of atopic dermatitis, including pus or oozing skin and changes to skin color, can become more noticeable.

Symptoms of cold hives can include:

  • Skin itchiness

  • Redness

  • Fatigue

  • Anxiety headache

  • Joint pain

How to Prevent Winter Rash Flares

The best way to prevent winter rash is by keeping your skin moisturized during the winter months. Apply moisturizer under the following circumstances:

  • Within three minutes of showering or bathing

  • After washing your hands

  • After coming in from outdoors

  • As needed throughout the day

Look for a moisturizer that is designed for sensitive skin, and doesn’t have harsh chemicals, dyes, or scents, which can further irritate dry skin.

In addition to keeping your skin moisturized, try these preventive measures:

  • Use a humidifier in your home or office.

  • Shower or bathe only once a day.

  • Use lukewarm, not hot, water in the bath or shower.

  • Avoid harsh soaps, which can strip your skin of its natural oils and moisture.

  • Avoid foods, detergents, and fabrics that irritate your skin.

  • When possible, cover your skin while outside in cold or windy temperatures.

Winter Rash Treatment Options

While moisturizing can make a big difference in the health of your skin during the winter, you may need more treatments once you start experiencing winter rash. Preventive measures such as moisturizing, minimizing your exposure to hot water, and avoiding harsh soaps should continue even when you’re using treatments.

Oftentimes, you’ll need prescription-strength cream to address symptoms, so you may want to see your primary care provider or dermatologist.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) & Prescription Remedies

These over-the-counter treatments can be helpful:

  • Steroid cream: Steroid creams, like hydrocortisone cream, can help with inflammation. Start with an OTC cream, but if that doesn’t work talk with your healthcare provider about a prescription cream.

  • Antihistamines: OTC antihistamines can help address itchiness and make you more comfortable.

These treatments should be used along with moisturizing. Always apply the steroid cream first and then the moisturizer.

In severe cases, you’ll need to see a healthcare provider to get prescription medication to address your winter rash. This is especially the case if you’re living with eczema, which often needs prescription treatment.

Winter Rash in Specific Groups

Winter rash can happen to anyone, but it’s more common in certain groups.

Winter Rash in Children and Infants

Eczema is more common in children and infants than in adults, so kids and babies can be at higher risk of developing winter rash. Like adults, kids and babies can benefit from regular moisturizing. It’s also safe to use hydrocortisone cream on children. However, if you’re using it more than one week out of the month, you should talk with your child’s healthcare provider.

Winter Rash in People With Preexisting Skin Conditions

Cold winter air can make existing skin conditions worse. If you have a skin condition like eczema or psoriasis, work with your healthcare provider to prepare for the winter season, when your symptoms may flare up. Consider upping your moisturizing routine as the weather gets colder, or adding a humidifier in your home. Take extra care to avoid triggers, like certain detergents or foods that might make your symptoms worse.

Winter Rash Prevention and Treatment for Older Adults

Older people are particularly prone to dry skin and winter rash. The same steps that help others—moisturizing regularly, using a humidifier inside, and addressing chronic skin condition like eczema—can help older individuals with winter rash.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Winter rash is common, and many people don’t need to see a healthcare provider about it. However, you should see a healthcare provider if:

  • You have an underlying skin condition, like eczema.

  • Your winter rash is accompanied by changes to cognition, breathing, or any other alarming symptoms.

  • Your skin is cracked or bleeding. This can increase your risk for infection.

  • You have to use a hydrocortisone cream for more than one week a month. In that case, you might need a more powerful prescription cream.


Winter rash occurs when dry air causes or exacerbates dry skin. This can cause an itchy, red rash associated with dry skin. It can also make underlying skin conditions like eczema worse. If you have a winter rash, moisturize your skin with unscented lotions. Use a humidifier indoors, and avoid frequent hot showers or baths.

If your rash becomes severe, a steroid cream or antihistamine can help with itching and inflammation. If you have to experience these symptoms more than one week out of the month, see your healthcare provider, who may suggest a more powerful treatment.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.