Winter weather, with harsher temperatures and the drying effects of heat in our homes and workplaces, can wreak havoc on our skin. Often, the effects lead to chapped hands and lips, along with drier than usual skin all over. Here are some tips for soothing and protecting your skin through these winter months.
In order for your skin to protect your body, it has to be flexible — elastic — and this happens only when skin is hydrated. Our skin is made of up to 35% water. Each day we lose about a pint of that water through TEWL–transepidermal water loss. Water leaves the body by way of evaporation and diffusion.
In winter when environmental humidity levels drop, TEWL spikes a dramatic increase thanks to drier air that actually draws moisture from the skin. This moisture loss decreases the body’s natural moisturizing factors (NMFs) which results in red, itchy, flaky or chapped skin.
It’s best to begin with exfoliation. The benefit of topical moisturizers will be greatly improved when the skin’s surface layer is free of dead skin cell build-up. For some, it may be necessary to use a chemical exfoliant every day. Cleansers that contain a low percentage of glycolic acid are a good choice. Bathing and showering should be done in warm water only, and should be brief. Long, hot showers deplete your body’s natural moisturizing factors. An exfoliant cleanser should be applied with an inexpensive washcloth. They tend to have a rougher texture which encourages proper shedding of cell build-up. Using plenty of cleanser on a very wet washcloth, cleanse in small circular motions over the entire body. Gently. Let the washcloth do the work. Your skin will look smoother and softer and this exfoliation will actually improve your skin’s health overall.
Now it’s time to moisturize. There are a multitude of choices in lotions and moisturizers. Bear in mind, these bring temporary relief, no matter how well they may be marketed to try and convince you the products are actually “healing” dry skin. Moisturizers and lotions are considered cosmetic products, so they are not under the scrutiny of the FDA and are by no means a prescription or cure. They do not *add* moisture to the skin. They *do* help restore the skin’s barrier function and will cover any tiny cracks in the skin’s surface, providing protection.
Even so, look for these buzzwords:
Humectants ~ attract water from the dermal layer and hold it in the outer layer of the skin, much like your skin’s NMFs. Aloe vera is an excellent, natural humectant.
Emollients ~ increase skin’s flexibility and smoothness as they lubricate. They produce the silky texture in moisturizers and lotions. Look for the ingredients lanolin, isopropyl palmitate or jojoba oil.
Occlusives ~ slow the rate of TEWL, thereby preserving moisture. Look for petrolatum or silicones.
Remember, your skin is the body’s largest organ and your first defense against infection. Caring for your skin should be a priority, no matter the time of year. Drinking plenty of water and including other liquids in the diet greatly improve moisture from the inside out. And always, regardless of the time of year, it’s important to wear sunscreen ~ every day ~ to protect yourself from UV’s harmful effects including skin cancer, and to prevent fine lines and wrinkles.