‘Winterize’ your skin
Andrew J. Kaufman
‘Tis the season for chapped lips, red cheeks, itching and dry skin that is about as moisturerich as the Mohave Desert. Freezing temperatures, increase in precipitation, heavy winds, and a dramatic drop in humidity punishes our skin in the winter months.
Distracted by our inclination to bundle up and fight seasonal allergies, we tend to neglect simple protection measures, sun damage prevention and proper skin management. Skin is quite vulnerable in the winter months, yet we are most interested in shielding our skin from damage in the summer months. With several winter-related skincare challenges ahead, here are a few important tips that will free your skin from the grasp of old man winter.
Scratchy sweater syndrome
Because of winter’s cold weather, we usually bundle up more. That wool sweater taken out of the closet for a cold winter day keeps us warm, but does our skin suffer? For winter wear, we often choose irritating fabrics like wool that can cause friction, more dryness and accompanying itching and flaking. As we go in and out of temperature-controlled rooms or the thermometer rises and falls during the day, we tend to be overdressed, causing moisture to be lost through perspiration.
Leather and nylon do not allow the skin to breathe, which results in dampness that can trap bacteria against the skin. This causes irritation. When dressing for winter, clothing should be light and non-constricting. Consider fabrics such as cotton, which does not trap moisture on the skin’s surface and can be worn for warmth or coolness. Also, it is always best to dress in layers so that you can add and remove clothing items to suit the changes in temperature.
The winter sun
Although we do tend to spend more time indoors during the winter months, it does not mean we no longer need to protect our skin from the sun. That ski trip or snowmobiling adventure in the sun may be even worse for your skin than a sunny summer day in the park.
Outdoor winter weather conditions, such as wind or sun reflecting off snow and ice, are more damaging to the skin than other non-reflecting environments. Wind also sucks up the moisture in the air and, during a cold day, we often forget to pay attention to harsh sunlight glare. Just as we use sunscreens in the summer, we should do so in the winter, too. Before all outdoor activities, use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPE) of at least 15. Remember, at higher altitudes, ultraviolet light, which causes burning, is more intense, so use a product with an SPF of at least 20. Look for natural sunscreens featuring moisturizing ingredients such as aloe vera, coconut butter and herbal oils to further protect your skin.
Give chapped lips the “kiss off”
Chapped lips are the most common problem during the winter months. We tend to make the problem worse by constantly licking our lips, thinking that we are giving them moisture, but, as that evaporates, the lips then dry out even more. Always use a lip balm with an SPF of at least 15 and preferably one with antiseptic agents. Some lip balms are made with tea tree oil, which is healing for cracks and winter sores. Other good ingredients in lip balms include beeswax, aloe, vitamin E, and essential oils. Remember to apply the lip balm frequently throughout the day.
The hair essentials
Your hair also needs special attention during the winter. Dry scalp, dandruff, and split ends are just a few of the hair problems that many endure throughout the winter season. Use natural shampoos and conditioners with the same care that you do skin products. Washing hair more than three to four times a week will result in breaking and split ends. Avoid overusing hot blow dryers, curling irons, and hot curlers. Allow your hair to air-dry whenever possible. A generous application of conditioners is a good idea in the winter. Try one of the natural hair rinses available to remove soaps and residue and restore the hair’s pH balance.
You will notice that many of the ingredients featured in natural skin moisturizers are also found in natural hair products. These include chamomile, rosemary, and vitamins A, B, C and E, among many others. To restore shine to dull winter hair, eat more protein from sources such as nuts, peas, and beans.
Vitamins and nutrition
Extra vitamins are an absolute must during the cold weather, when we are bombarded with germs and bacteria and our immune system’s resistance seems to be weaker. The best thing for skin is good nutrition. Dark green leafy vegetables are excellent for preventing some skin dryness, cracking and other problems. Take supplements that include vitamins B complex, C and E along with a multi-mineral. It is also very important to drink plenty of water, which moisturizes your skin from the inside out.
Need extra help?
If the preceding treatments are not effective in reducing or preventing asteatotic dermatitis or “winter itch,” a dermatologist can prescribe medications to help decrease water loss and treat the associated inflammation and itching. These medications include salicylic, alpha-hydroxy and lactic acids that help prevent dry, scaly skin. Mid- to high-potency topical steroids may be prescribed to trap water in the skin and decrease the associated itching and inflammation caused by excessively dry skin. Other topical medications include anti-pruritics, such as Sarna, which use a combination of products such as camphor and menthol to quiet the itching sensation.
By following a few basic but important precautions, we can keep our skin healthy and glowing. Simply by becoming aware of what causes winter skin problems, we can learn how to avoid them. With prevention and knowledge, our skin will ultimately win against the ravages of winter.
Andrew J. Kaufman, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA School of Medicine, specializes in the detection and treatment of skin cancers and maintains private practices in Thousand Oaks and Santa Barbara, Calif.
Dermatologist Andrew Kaufman takes time out of his busy practice to pen a primer on winter skincare for our Winter Wellness Guide.
The popular doctor juggles a practice in Thousand Oaks, Calif., with his position as an assistant clinical professor at UCLA.
Dry skin 101
Dry skin, or asteatotic dermatitis, is a common problem for many people, particularly during the fall and winter months. The cause of dry skin can be attributed to dehydration of the stratum corneum, the uppermost portion of the skin surface. This dehydration leads to a scaly texture, possible inflammation, and itching–otherwise known as “winter itch.” This annual occurrence may be hereditary, yet many people are only affected once or under severe winter conditions. Prevent and treat itchy, dry, and scaly skin by noting a few basic Winter issues.
* Dry air
Ideally, the humidity level would always be at 70 percent, and your skin’s water level would be at about 10 percent. However, that is not the case during colder weather. The humidity drops and your skin’s moisture level decreases as well.
Room temperature should be maintained at as low a temperature as possible for comfort. Hot air coming from heaters and furnaces removes moisture from the air and even draw moisture out from our skin. To overcome this drying effect, the use of humidifiers is encouraged, as this adds moisture back to the dry winter air.
* Suds busting
Deodorant soaps or perfumed soaps should be avoided; they may contain alcohol and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), both drying agents that also tend to irritate the skin. Moisturizing soaps or a non-soap skin cleanser such as Aquanil or Cetaphil may be used to gently cleanse the skin. Try a natural alternative such as a good vegetable-based soap or a glycerine/herbal bath bar.
* Hot water
Due to seasonal cold and flu viruses, general achiness, or just wanting to warm up, we shower or bathe more frequently in hot water in the wintertime. Hot water may feel good, but it is also very damaging and drying to your skin. Bathing should be kept to once every day or every other day, and bath water should be warm, not hot. Bath oils may be added to the bath water to help prevent dehydration.
* Moisturize to the max
Moisturizers should be applied frequently and liberally and are best applied when the skin is moist, such as after bathing. This is especially important following the daily or alternate daily bath. At this time, the skin should be gently patted dry and followed with the immediate application of a water-in-oil topical moisturizer. With application immediately after bathing, additional water can be trapped and absorbed into the skin surface. Additional applications with the water-in-oil moisturizer throughout the day will help to prevent further water loss through the skin’s surface.
Winter is also a good time to try moisturizers that contain alphahydroxy acids (AHA’s), such as glycolic or lactic acid, which are effective for reversing dry skin and invisible lines at a deeper level. In addition to AHA’s, many natural moisturizers feature antioxidants which further counteract the free-radical damage caused by winter’s elements. Common antioxidant ingredients include alpha-lipoic acid, chamomile, grapeseed, ginkgo biloba, melatonin, and vitamins C and E.
Other effective ingredients frequently found in natural moisturizers include oils derived from herbs, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Look in your natural products store for products which are “dual– purpose,” that is, those products which not only moisturize but also will serve as a sunscreen.
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