Whether it’s the precipitous drop in temperatures, the complete lack of humidity, or blazing indoor space heaters, winter conditions can wreak havoc on our skin. Why? Because healthy skin’s outermost layer, called the epidermis, has a protective seal to keep essential water inside and potentially destructive elements outside. During the winter months, this seal is gradually broken down, impairing the skin’s natural ability to lock-in moisture. As a result, many of us battle scaly, lusterless and even cracked, painful skin this time of year.
The good news is that there are things you can do to battle winter woes. I consulted my long-time friend, Dr. Carlos Charles, a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at Weill Cornell University Medical College in New York. Here are Dr. Charles’ winter survival skin tips:
1.) Humidifier- A good place to start is to replace the moisture into the air. Using a humidifier nightly will help combat the drying effects of central heating. Excellent humidifying systems abound and can be purchased at your local drug store.
2.) Water treatment- The benefits of drinking plenty of water are well-known, however too much topical exposure to water can exacerbate dry and cracked winter-battered skin. During the winter months, keep baths short and the water lukewarm, as hot water aggressively siphons moisture out of the skin. Even better, pour some of your favorite unscented oatmeal-based bath treatment in the water for an added infusion of moisture.
3.) Protect thy lips- The lips are particularly prone to the ill effects of winter. To seal in moisture and provide a protective barrier, use a petrolatum-based lip balm frequently throughout the day. Avoid heavily scented and/or flavored products as they can lead to allergic reactions and other conditions that can persist for much longer than the winter! Also, make sure to look for products with ultraviolet light protection.
4.) Lightweight cleanser- Just as one facial cleanser is not appropriate for all skin types, one cleanser is also not appropriate for all seasons. During the winter months, put away your abrasive exfoliating cleanser. Instead go for creamy washes and look for ingredients such as Feverfew, a flowering plant, that have anti-inflammatory effects to alleviate redness and flaking.
5.) Heavier moisturizer day and night- Simply using a richer, creamier daytime moisturizer can help improve your skin’s natural barrier to the outdoor elements. In the evening, you can mix an anti-aging oil with your moisturizer for added benefit.
6.) Sunscreen- Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean it’s time to abandon the daily use of sunscreen. Ultraviolet rays are still present and their aging and skin cancer causing effects may even be potentiated by your skin’s impaired protective barrier. Make sure that your daily moisturizer has broad spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
7.) Keep exercising- We are all aware of the health benefits of regular exercise. However few of us think of the direct effects of exercise for the skin. Regular exercise can stimulate cellular turnover and improve oxygenation of the skin leading to improved color and radiance.
8.) Gentle exfoliation- As part of your evening routine with your creamy cleanser, use a soft face cloth once a week to gently remove dull, lusterless skin cells.
9.) Keep your hands protected- The rough winter elements are particularly damaging to the hands. Just like your face and body, be sure to avoid harsh hand soaps in favor of creamy washes. Nightly application of anti-aging oils to the cuticles can help maintain their appearance. For those in occupations where repeated hand washing is required, alternate hand washing with topical antibacterial sanitizers, thereby avoiding the drying effects of frequent water contact.
10.) Supplementation- A wide range of practices, such as drinking anti-inflammatory green tea and boosting antioxidants in the diet with fresh fruit and vegetables, can help maintain your skin’s summer glow. Additionally, increasing your intake of fish, like salmon and mackerel, can elevate your levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which contributes to overall skin health.