Every year, as soon as we hit autumn and the light begins to wane, my skin starts to itch. Windburned, frostbitten, deprived of moisture and scratched until it breaks poor skin.
You can guzzle water until the cows come home and all you'll feel is bloated. One trick to help your body absorb water is to make sure you have enough salt, so drink Gatorade or salted broths. Sodium gets a totally undeserved bad rap unless, of course you have high blood pressure or some similar condition.
Then there's that itch that's so deep, it seems to be underneath your skin. And nothing will relieve it.
Do you know what I'm talking about? It happens in, like, January. I wondered if it could have anything to do with lack of vitamin D, since we get a lot less of it in the winter, don't we?
But it turns out that's not likely to be a factor. And here I thought I was a genius on the edge of a breakthrough discovery.
What the experts say
"Sometimes it goes beyond just itching, and we see cracked skin on the legs. There's winter eczema and nummular eczema. "Nummular" means coin-shaped; people get scaly, round lesions on their legs. Reducing bathing is most important, along with reducing the temperature of the water used to bathe, avoiding soaps and detergents and using lubricants . Balancing the essential fatty acids is very important. People can also get windburn, that ruddy appearance, that doesn't go away; the damage accumulates. Protect your face with a mask or balaclava .
ALAN DATTNER , holistic dermatologist, New Rochelle, New York
"The medical term for itching is pruritus. It is a symptom that occurs with many skin disorders. Itching in skin disorders often happens during the evening or sleep, precipitated by stress, weather changes such as the dryness of winter, alcoholic drinks and spicy foods. According to traditional Chinese medicine, pruritus is due to internal heat in the blood with a further attack by wind-heat entering the skin, or blood deficiency with an excess of liver qi. Traditional herbal medicines to clear internal heat and wind would be Chan Tui , Bo He , Ju Hua and Sang Ye or Tao Hong Si Wu Tong ."
ROBERT McDONALD , Chinese medicine practitioner, Toronto
"Treatment is fairly straightforward as long as you don't have an underlying skin disease such as eczema or psoriasis. Make sure you're drinking enough water and have a humidifier in your home. But don't set the humidifier too high or you might develop a mould problem. Topically, I would go with oils or creams that contain camomile , lavender or rose . Food-wise you want lots of essential fatty acids, beta carotene and vitamin E .'
SHERRY CHEN , naturopath, Toronto
"If you have a long-term itch that doesn't respond to medical treatment, we would worry about liver disease, kidney disease or some kinds of cancer, including lymphoma, especially Hodgkin's disease, which are associated with itching. That said, 99.9 per cent of people don't have these internal conditions. Itching is usually from dryness. Take only a quick, lukewarm shower or bath every day using a non-irritating soap like unscented Dove. I don't like Zest, Dial or heavily perfumed soaps. As soon as you get out, slap on moisturizer head to foot. Use moisturizer two or three times a day . Don't wear wool or wool blends next to your skin or even over a cotton T-shirt. Wear cotton . Don't use fabric softener . We use mild to mid-potency topical steroids or oral antihistamines. Humidifiers sometimes help, but not for everyone.
ERIC GOLDSTEIN , dermatologist, Toronto