Diagnosing and Treating Winter Rashes: A Comprehensive Guide


11 min read

Reviewed by: Dr. Dipa Rani

Winter rashes are indeed a common challenge during the colder months. Cold air, low humidity, and harsh wind manifest into skin irritations in different forms with common symptoms such as itching, redness, and inflammation. Dry air, together with cold temperatures, also triggers some pre-existing skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis at times. However, the good thing about winter rashes is that they can be prevented effectively with the right skincare routine, humidification, and protective clothing.

Let us dig deeper to understand the common occurrences, factors contributing to symptoms, diagnosis, preventive measures, and treatment of winter rashes.

Understanding Winter Rashes

Definition and Types:

As soon as the temperature drops, your skin faces the consequences in the form of winter rashes. When we say winter rash, we mean skin irritation with symptoms like itching, redness, or extreme dryness due to the cold and harsh temperature. Winter can be a tough season for your skin, especially if you have pre-existing conditions like eczema, dermatitis, and cold urticaria.

  • Eczema: Atopic Dermatitis or Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin condition triggered in the winter due to an abundance of dry air. Some of the common symptoms experienced in Eczema are itching, cracks, and rough flaky skin.
  • Contact Dermatitis: A drop in temperature during the chilly winter season is also responsible for causing Contact Dermatitis. Again, here, too, the symptoms are quite similar to other winter rashes, like itching, redness, and inflamed skin.
  • Cold Urticaria: Also known as Hives, Cold Urticaria is an allergic reaction caused by cold temperatures. In this type of winter rash, a person experiences itchy hives or welts on the skin.
  • Xerosis: Low humidity levels and cold air indoors or outdoors during winter may cause Xerosis. It is a winter rash with symptoms like flaking, itching, and tightness of the skin.
  • Chilblains: It is a painful condition leading to swollen toes or fingers. The main cause of Chilblains is exposure to cold and harsh weather.

Causes of Winter Rashes:

When trying to treat or prevent anything like winter itching, learning about the root cause is essential. Winter rashes, too, are caused due to some peculiar reasons, and knowing them will help you prevent them to some extent for better relief.

Listed below are some of the common causes of winter rashes:

  • Low Humidity: One of the prime reasons for winter skin problems like rashes and itching is low humidity. Winter air is dry and low in humidity, which automatically leads to loss of moisture from the skin, making it dry and itchy.
  • Harsh Winds: Winter is the season of harsh winds that break down the natural protective layer of natural oils and sebum from our skin, which may trigger pre-existing skin conditions like Rosacea. As a result, our skin becomes sensitive and dry, and we experience inflammation and dryness.
  • Cold Temperature: Winters are all about cold temperatures, which can contract the blood vessels, reducing natural skin oil production. As a result, cold temperature acts as a culprit in triggering Psoriasis flare-ups and making the skin susceptible to dryness and winter rashes.
  • Dry Skin: Skin rash in the winter is mainly caused due to dry skin that can trigger existing skin conditions like Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis. Living in cold and windy conditions when stepping outside or in central heating when indoors during winter all lead to dry skin, making it susceptible to winter rashes.
  • Hot Showers: Another possible reason for people to experience winter rashes is having hot showers. Having a shower with hot water removes the layer of natural oils from the skin, leading it to feel dry and itchy.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Winter Rashes

Winter Rashes Common Symptoms:

Winter rashes can play havoc on your skin by causing the following common symptoms:

  • Itching: Winter rashes are mainly characterized by the common symptom of uncontrollable itching.
  • Dryness and Flakiness: The second common symptom of a winter rash is dryness, leading to flaking skin.
  • Redness: Winter rashes also show symptoms like redness of the skin, especially in the case of contact dermatitis.
  • Inflammation: Swollen, warm to touch, and burning sensation all go under the inflammatory symptoms of a winter rash.

The table below enlists the common symptoms of different types of winter rashes:

Type of Winter Rash Eczema Contact Dermatitis Cold Urticaria Xerosis Chilblains
Symptoms Red and inflamed skin, itching, dryness, blisters in severe cases Redness, swelling, itching, and hives Hives, itchy welts, redness, and swelling Intense itching, dry and flaky skin, and redness in severe cases Swelling of toes or fingers, pain, and itching

Winter Rashes Diagnosis:

Proper diagnosis done by a medical professional at the right stage is crucial in managing winter rashes. Listed below are the ways to diagnose winter rashes:

  • Clinical Examination: Diagnosing a winter rash starts with a clinical examination, wherein the healthcare provider will visually inspect the affected area to identify the type of winter rash.
  • Medical History: After visually inspecting the affected area, the doctor might proceed by checking your medical history to figure out the potential triggers and underlying causes of your winter rashes.
  • Blood Tests: Many healthcare professionals may also diagnose the actual cause of a patient’s winter rashes by prescribing them blood tests to check for certain antibodies and their elevated levels.
  • Patch Testing: In some cases, the doctor might conduct a patch test on the patient by applying a small amount of potential allergens on the skin to identify the potential triggers leading to winter rashes.
  • Skin Biopsy: In extreme cases, where a person is suffering from severe winter rashes and the reason is unknown, a doctor may prescribe a skin biopsy. It is a procedure wherein a small skin sample is taken for examination under a microscope.

Preventive Measures to avoid Winter Rashes

Skincare Routine:

Prevention is always better than cure, and in case you are experiencing winter rashes, the best prevention comes through a proper skincare routine like:

  • Moisturizing: The key to preventing winter skin rashes is moisturizing your body. Choose a good moisturizer with long-lasting effects and apply it generously on areas prone to dryness.
  • Using Allergen-Free Gentle Cleaners: To avoid the occurrence of winter rashes, make sure to switch to allergen-free gentle cleansers. Choose the ones that are free from parabens or any allergy-causing substances.
  • Short and Warm Showers: At the same time, limit your shower time and avoid using hot water; instead, use warm water for bathing. It will prevent the removal of natural oils from your skin.
  • Protect Your Hands: Try keeping your hands covered with gloves during winter to prevent getting into contact with harsh elements that may trigger winter rashes.

Protective Clothing:

The fabric you choose to wear also plays a significant role in preventing winter rashes. Here are some suggestions for wearing proper clothing to shield your skin from harsh winter conditions:

  1. Breathable Fabric: Try making a wise selection of breathable fabric during winter to allow air circulation. At the same time, avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing that can irritate the skin at some other level.
  2. Avoid Direct Wool Contact: One common practice that can help save you from the itching of a winter rash is to avoid direct contact with any woolens on your skin. Woolen clothing may trigger sensitive skin if it comes in direct contact during the winter season.
  3. Windsheeters: Consider winter the right time to invest in windsheeters to avoid the impact of dry and cold weather hitting you with winter rashes. Opt for winter coats or windproof fabric when stepping out on chilly winter days or nights.
  4. Gloves, Hats, and Scarves: Befriend gloves, hats, and scarves at the onset of the winter season to protect your hands, head, and neck from winter rashes. These will also help protect you from the cold winds of the season.


It is common practice to use heating devices in winter to get some warmth, eventually making the air dry and making our skin susceptible to winter rashes. This is where you need humidification to maintain moisture in the indoor air. Listed below are some ways to maintain an optimal humidity level in the home during the winter season:

  • Use a Humidifier: Invest in a good humidifier to add that lost moisture back to your indoor air. Place the humidifier in a central place inside your home for best results and to avoid the occurrence of winter rashes due to dry air.
  • Ensure Proper Ventilation: It is equally important to ensure proper ventilation inside your home using exhaust fans in the bathrooms and kitchen areas. It will help remove excess moisture and keep your home well-ventilated.
  • Seal Cracks and Leaks: Check for cracks and leaks in the doors or windows to prevent entry of outdoor dry air inside your home.
  • Avoid Excessive Use of Heaters: Try limiting the use of heating devices, as they make the indoor air dry. In short, use heaters moderately to avoid suffering from winter rashes.

Treatment Options

Over-the-counter (OTC) Remedies:

The best way to treat winter rashes is to keep your skin hydrated and moist. Besides, limit your skin’s exposure to cold air by wearing proper winter clothing. For the rest, you may rely on Over-the-counter (OTC) creams, ointments, and antihistamines that play a crucial role in offering symptom relief for winter rashes.

Listed below are the common OTC remedies to cure skin winter rashes:

  • Calamine Lotion: Get instant relief and soothing from winter skin rash by applying calamine lotion to the affected area. Zinc oxide and ferric oxide are the active ingredients of calamine lotion that can provide relief for conditions like contact dermatitis. Make sure to shake the bottle before applying.
  • Hydrocortisone Cream: With mild anti-inflammatory properties, hydrocortisone creams contain low-potency corticosteroids that offer relief from winter rashes. Apply a thin layer of this cream to the affected area or follow the instructions mentioned on the packaging.
  • Antihistamine Cream: It works by blocking histamine with active ingredients like doxylamine and diphenhydramine. All you need is to apply a thin layer of this cream to the affected area or follow the instructions on the pack.
  • Antihistamine Pill: To attain systemic relief from constant itching and skin irritation due to a winter rash, you may consider taking skin rash medicines like cetirizine, fexofenadine, and loratadine. Make sure to consult your doctor before consuming these in the right dose.

Prescription Medications:

We just discussed using OTC medications as treatment for mild or moderate rashes, but what if you are experiencing severe symptoms? Remember, no matter whichever OTC you use, they will fail to cure severe winter rashes, and for them, you will need proper prescription medications that are listed below:

  • Topical Corticosteroids: With their anti-inflammatory properties and higher potency than over-the-counter medicines, these can reduce itching, inflammation, and redness caused due to winter skin rashes.
  • Oral Corticosteroids: Many healthcare providers prescribe this systemic anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce the severe symptoms of winter itching and rashes. The most commonly prescribed oral corticosteroid is Prednisone.
  • Topical Calcineurin Inhibitors: This is a common medicine prescribed to cure severe eczema triggered by the winter season. It acts as an immune system suppressor and offers instant relief. The most commonly prescribed topical calcineurin inhibitors are Pimecrolimus and Tacrolimus.
  • Oral Antihistamines: This is a medicine best known for treating severe itching and allergic reactions caused due to cold weather. Depending on the severity of the case, your healthcare provider might prescribe you a higher or lower dose of oral antihistamines.

While we mentioned some commonly prescribed medications to treat winter rashes, we strongly recommend that you consult a healthcare professional for a personalized treatment plan to avoid any side effects.

Natural Remedies:

Mother Earth has everything we need to cure anything, be it skin issues in winter. Not only are home remedies for winter rashes effective and natural, but they are cost-effective too. Have a look at some of the best home remedies to treat winter rashes:

  • Coconut Oil: Nothing can surpass the effect of coconut oil as a perfect winter rashes remedy. Best known for its anti-inflammatory properties, when applied to the affected area, coconut oil will offer natural moisturization and relief from winter rashes on the skin.
  • Aloe Vera: Extract natural aloe vera gel from an aloe vera leaf and apply it directly to the affected area. We guarantee it will soothe your inflamed skin with its cooling and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Oatmeal Baths: Soak finely ground oats in warm water for 10 minutes and bathe with it to see instant relief from winter rashes. Alternatively, you may purchase ready-to-use oatmeal soaps available in the market to cure winter itching.
  • Cold Compress: When experiencing unbearable itching due to a winter skin rash, try a cold compress and get immediate relief. Just apply ice wrapped in a cloth or directly to the affected area for 5 to 10 minutes, and you will see a reduction in inflammation and itching.

Besides trying these natural remedies, consider potential allergens and individual skin sensitivities to prevent winter rashes.

When to Seek Professional Help

Persistent or Worsening Symptoms:

One good thing about winter rashes is that most of them are not so severe and can be easily treated at home with some OTC medications or natural remedies. So, when is the right time to consult a doctor for winter rashes? Listed below are the instances when you should consult your doctor:

  • When the symptoms are getting worse
  • No relief from any over-the-counter medicine or home remedy
  • Constant itching is leading to bleeding
  • Scratching the rash has led to bacterial infections such as skin abscesses or cellulitis

Dermatologist Consultation:

Overview of what to expect during a dermatologist appointment.

In some cases, consulting a general practitioner won’t help cure a winter rash; in those cases, you are advised to opt for a dermatologist consultation. Some such instances where you must consult a dermatologist are

  • Severe symptoms
  • Persistent symptoms
  • Occurrence of pus or blisters
  • Worsening of the rashes
  • Unknown triggers
  • Systemic symptoms
  • Fever or chills

When you consult a dermatologist for a winter rash, you may expect the doctor to ask you about your lifestyle and habits. The dermatologist might also conduct a patch test or a skin biopsy, if required, after examining your visual symptoms and jotting down your medical history.


To sum up, to end the tale of winter rashes, you need to maintain a holistic approach revolving around a healthy skincare routine, protective clothing, and dehumidification. However, if you still experience any winter rash, be it cold urticaria, eczema, or dermatitis, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible and get it diagnosed to find out the underlying cause and best treatment options.

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Nov 25, 2023
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