7 Of Our Best Tips To Combat Dry Elbows This Winter

So many of us will experience dry elbows as the weather turns colder. It's natural and very common for our skin to get drier as the temperature drops around us, with a CeraVe survey conducted in 2019 finding that the winter brings dry skin to three in four Americans. The reason why is that the cold air that surrounds so many of us in the winter just doesn't hold the same moisture as hot air does. According to NASA, air at a temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit can hold double the water vapor of air that's only 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Who knew? And because elbow skin is particularly prone to getting dry, it can often be one of the most tell-tale spots on the body that we're not getting the hydration we need. "Skin on the elbow is significantly different to other skin on your body. It tends to be much thicker so as to be able to withstand mechanical stretching, and is drier because this area has significantly fewer sebaceous glands, the oil-secreting parts of the skin," cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Mervyn Patterson explained to Good Housekeeping.

But don't think that the winter means you're reserved to dry elbows with no chance of getting them feeling hydrated and supple again until the summer rolls around. There are plenty of things you can try to combat those ashy 'bows, and we're sharing some of the most effective.

Step up your moisturizing game

One of the most obvious ways to beat dry skin, no matter where it is on your body, is to load up on the moisturizer. And the elbows are no different. Dermatologist Dr. Deborah Longwill recommended to New Beauty moisturizing the elbows (and your whole body for that matter) at least once a day, or twice if you can. And try doing it while the skin is damp. "Moisturizing after the shower helps lock in the moisture on your skin, which will keep your skin soft and hydrated, especially if you struggle with dry elbows. Consistency is key. You will notice results when you follow a daily routine," she shared. To combat those dry spots, dermatologist Dr. Tami Buss Cassis recommended going for a thicker moisturizer in the winter when you need extra moisture, rather than the thinner lotion you may use in the summer. "It will take you that extra two minutes [to rub in], but it is worth it," she said. 

You could also try coconut oil (yep, the beauty all-rounder!) on those super dry spots. "Apply something like coconut oil before bedtime, and sleep with a large bandage over your elbows to enhance the penetration of this healthy oil into the skin," Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare, told Well + Good. She also recommended long-sleeved PJs so your moisturizer is less likely to rub off on your sheets.

Get to exfoliating your dry elbows

One of the most effective ways to combat dry elbows is to grab an exfoliant. Dermatologist Dr. Valerie Callender explained to New Beauty that exfoliating products containing either alphahydroxy acids (AHAs), salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or lactic acid are all great for the elbow areas. If you want to moisturize and exfoliate at the same time, Dr. Deborah Longwill recommended getting a product that combines urea and ceramides. "Urea gently exfoliates, and ceramides hydrate, which will help remove the dry, dead skin and moisturize simultaneously," she explained. Speaking to Well + Good, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic, Dr. Julie Russak, agreed, singing the praises of exfoliators with urea and ceramides in to banish dry elbows.

However, it's important you only exfoliate the elbows if your skin isn't seriously cracked or already irritated, as exfoliating can only exacerbate any existing skin sores. But even if your elbows are up to some exfoliation, still don't go overboard. As board-certified dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Houshmand told Skincare.com, "Some patients take physical exfoliation too far and do it daily. This can actually inflame the skin because physical exfoliation can be too harsh for some skin types."

Cut down on your hot shower time to keep your dry elbows soft

Another way to help dry elbows become more hydrated is to stay away from super hot, long showers or long, hot baths. So many of us like to slip into a hot bath on a cold winter day, but it may be doing you more harm than good when it comes to the ashy areas of your arms. According to consultant dermatologist Dr. Noor Almaani, who spoke to Good Housekeeping, "This can lead to depletion of intercellular lipids and desiccation of the outermost layer of the skin."

To combat dry elbows caused by showers or bathing, try having quicker cleaning sessions to avoid your elbows being submerged in water for too long a time. But if you're craving a lengthy soak, try turning down the temperature in your bath or shower. The American Academy of Dermatology actually recommends that people combatting dry skin should bathe and shower in lukewarm water rather than hot. Equally, if you swim a lot, you may find having a little less time in the pool over the winter will help to keep your elbows more moisturized during the driest time of the year.

A milder cleanser can also help combat excessive dryness

You may also want to try changing up your body cleanser in the winter, as some can be just too harsh for when the weather isn't on your side. According to Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, a board-certified dermatologist and the author of the book "Beyond Soap," you don't necessarily need a product that soaps up well if you don't have a lot of dirt that you're trying to get off the areas. "Use cleansers that are mild and don't dry out the skin when washing the elbows," she recommended while speaking to Byrdie. A gentle or even sensitive body wash is a solid choice for a lot of people with elbows on the dry side. 

If you're planning to exfoliate but want to make sure it's not too harsh for your body, a shower product with a gentle exfoliant in it may be the best choice for you. Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare, recommended an enzyme scrub for the shower. "Massage it into your elbows and leave it on for several minutes before washing it off so that the enzymes can work to dislodge the dead cells at the surface," she shared while speaking to Well + Good.

Get your hands on a humidifier

As we already know, part of the reason our skin gets so much drier in the winter is because of the lack of moisture in the air. Not to mention, many of us also turn up the heat in our homes to combat the chill outside, which can only further dry out the skin. Not what you want when your elbows are already ashy. "The heaters we turn on when the temperature drops can affect the air, which means that mostly all air that we come into contact with, both indoors and outdoors is dry and lacking in humidity," aesthetic doctor, skincare expert, and face surgeon Dr. Paris Acharya told Glamour UK. "This results in dehydrated, flaky skin, which is easily irritated."

One of the best ways to bring some humidity back into the air surrounding you is to buy an at-home humidifier. "Humidifiers increase the water content in the air helping to make the air more humid," Dr. Caren Campbell, a board-certified dermatologist, explained to Skincare.com. "When there's more moisture in the air, the water from our skin is less likely to evaporate." So, as we spend more time inside to beat the winter cold, turning on your humidifier will bring a little moisture back into your life.

Try changing up your winter clothes

Many people experience dry elbows because of their clothing. Of course, many of us change up our wardrobes for the winter months, and some people may find they're extra dry because of a change in the material they're wearing. Some people who live in places where winter brings cold weather may start wearing material like wool during the colder days, which they could actually be allergic to without knowing it. Things like polyester or spandex can also potentially cause dry elbow issues. But it may not even be the material itself. There could be irritants in the chemicals used to make or wash the clothes or the fragrances in your wash powders and soaps.

So, if you're finding yourself with dry elbows in the winter but not so much in the summer, you may want to consider what, if any, changes you make when it comes to your clothing choices from season to season. If you swap the product you use to wash your clothes in for the winter, for example, try returning to that same product. Stay away from any materials that seem to cause you irritation during the colder months.

Find out if your dry elbows are due to an underlying health issue

While the majority of cases of dry elbows are absolutely nothing to be concerned about, in some instances, they can be a sign of a more serious medical condition. Constantly dry elbows throughout the year can be related to thyroid problems, Sjogren's syndrome, and even diabetes. "Conditions such as thyroid problems or diabetes disrupt skin function generally and are linked to dry skin all over the body, making dryness on the elbows much worse," Dr. Mervyn Patterson explained to Good Housekeeping. Dr. Noor Almaani also noted the issue could be down to dehydration, eczema, or even certain medications. "Some medications, such as vitamin A derivatives, are also linked to elbow dryness," they shared.

So, if you tried the tips on our list and your ashy elbows don't seem to have shown many signs of improvement, it's never a bad idea to head to your doctor or dermatologist just to make sure there's nothing more serious going on. If a professional decides your dry elbows are due to a medical condition, they may be able to prescribe you a personalized treatment for the problem.