Although a long, hot shower or snuggling in a heavy sweater and other warm clothing in a toasty room may initially feel wonderful in winter, these measures to keep warm and comfortable are not wonderful for your skin. Humidity often drops in winter, and indoor heating also produces dry air. Drier air, hot water and even heavy, bulky clothing and the aging process can cause your skin to lose moisture or generate less of its own natural moisture. The result can be dry, itchy, irritated and flaky skin that no longer feels comfortable.
Skin is the largest organ in the body. Skin serves as a protective barrier, keeping harmful substances away from tissue, bones and blood vessels. It cools the body in hot weather by releasing water in the form of perspiration, which evaporates from the skin. Be good to your skin this winter by protecting and moisturizing it.
The following recommendations were adapted from material provided online by the American Academy of Dermatology and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
HUMIDIFY AND MOISTURIZE
- Keep your home warm but not too hot.
- Consider increasing the humidity and counteracting the dry heat in your home by adding a humidifier.
- Avoid long, hot showers or baths. Keep showers and baths short and use warm, not hot, water. You may choose to bathe or shower less often, especially during the dry winter months.
- For normal skin, regular bar soap and water will clean the skin efficiently, removing dirt, oil, sweat and dead skin cells.
- For dry skin, soap may strip away too much of the skin’s natural oils, leaving the skin feeling dry and tight. You may want to try a soap containing fatty materials like cocoa butter or lanolin, or a cleansing lotion or cream that will clean without removing too much oil.
- For oily skin, soaps that are made for oily skin will help remove excess oil.
- To avoid irritating the skin, scrub gently when washing.
- When drying off, gently pat the skin dry to avoid irritation and redness.
- Immediately after bathing and gently patting the skin dry, apply a moisturizer. The moisturizer should help to make the skin feel softer, prevent further water loss and allow the skin to rehydrate itself from within.
- Choose a moisturizer that suits you and makes your skin feel comfortable. Check the ingredients. Lotions that contain a lot of alcohol will make the skin drier. Look for lotions and creams that contain any of the following: petrolatum, mineral oil, lineolic acid, ceramides, dimethicone or glycerin.
- Reapply moisturizer throughout the day, such as right after washing your hands.
•If a normal moisturizing regimen does not improve your dry skin, you may have a more serious skin condition and need to visit a dermatologist—a physician who has had additional training in conditions of the skin, hair, nails and mucous membranes. To obtain a referral to a dermatologist, contact your local county medial society.
• To prevent the face from becoming too dry, wash it with lukewarm, not hot, water, and use a mild facial cleanser. The American Academy of Dermatology advises that those who have oily facial skin may not need a moisturizer. Wait 20 minutes after washing; then if your face feels tighter, use a moisturizer but only where it feels dry.
• If you use prescription treatments for acne or other facial conditions, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends talking to your dermatologist about switching to more moisturizing versions to help offset the effects of winter. This is especially important if you use products containing retinoids. Such products may be drying and increase the chance of the skin flaking and becoming red.
• When heading outdoors into the cold, cover as much exposed skin as possible.
• Remember to use sunscreen or sunblock to help keep the sun’s ultraviolet rays from harming the skin.
• Snow can reflect more than 80 percent of the sun’s damaging ultraviolet radiation, so use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.
• To help prevent chapped lips, apply a lip balm with an SPF of at least 15.
• For maximum benefit, reapply the sunscreen and lip balm within two hours.
—By the NY Medical Press, January 20055