Temperature Changes and the Skin

Cold temperature can have both positive and negative effects on the skin. On one hand it has been shown to reduce irritation of known irritants, while on the other hand it can also impede barrier recovery [pubby id=“26449379”].

Winter and Worsening Seborrheic Dermatitis

A phenomenon seen in the majority of dermatitis is that during the winter, the skin condition worsens and flare ups are more common place [pubby id=“11411412,18779981,11436360,18755376”]. It can be difficult to isolate whether it is the colder temperatures or the relative humidity which are responsible, but it appears that the low humidity plays a bigger role.

In any case, here are some relevant findings on the subject:

  • Low humidity has one of the clearest effects on skin hydration [pubby id="12172894,12423539,14646307,16902804"]
  • Low humidity can elicit heightened hypersensitivity and increase barrier penetration [pubby id="5556501"]
  • Cold wind exposure can decrease skin hydration [pubby id="22952472"]
  • Increased temperature can improve barrier recovery rates [pubby id="17068482"]

However, there are also some findings that complicate this picture:

  • High temperature (such as that in summer months) can increase trans epidermal water loss [pubby id="7276616,5097581"]
  • Low temperature can mask symptoms of a barrier defects [pubby id="15840102,7718455"]
  • Sebum secretion rates are highest in summer [pubby id="15998330"]

In the end, it seems that the low humidity of the winter months is the main culprit behind the worsening seen in winter months.

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What is Trans Epidermal Water Loss

Trans epidermal water loss (TEWL for short) is the measure of how much water/moisture escape from the body through the skin into the environment.


Using Cold Temperature to Reduce Irritation

From the above points, it’s difficult to really gage weather low temperature is beneficial for skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis. However, what we can do is take advantage of two known factors of cold temperature, specifically it’s ability to:

  • Reduce skin sensitivity and irritation potential of antigens
  • Reduce trans epidermal water loss

More precisely, we can use short term exposure to cold water to reduce the irritation potential and barrier disruption caused by common washing procedures (such as shampooing, cleansing, etc). This may allow the skin to stay relatively stable and help avoid some of the common negative effects of washing.

Additional Notes

  • In a case report, a nerve lesion resulted in aggressive seborrheic dermatitis affecting one side of the face. The physicians suspected that increased blood flow, and sebum secretion accompanied by decreased sweating resulted in increased microbial activity on the affected half of the face [pubby id="13282495"].
  • Some have speculated that the relatively low blood flow of the nasolabial folds (nose creases) and forehead together with the high relative skin temperature of these areas results in high transepidermal water loss and reduced barrier function and ultimately making these areas more susceptible to seborrheic dermatitis [pubby id="18494917"]