By Marlyne Perez
The drop in temperature isn't the only signal that winter is here; for many of us, colder weather means months of itchy, cracked and irritated skin.
According to San Diego, California-based esthetician Izabela Rosa, dry skin during the winter season is mainly caused by a drop in humidity. "The stratum corneum, the most outer and protective layer of the skin, doesn't hold enough water to protect the layers of skin underneath the surface," explains Rosa.
While you may not be able to control the weather, there are 10 simple things you can do to give your skin a fresh and healthy boost all year round:
Long, hot, sudsy showers on a chilly day are tempting, but can leave your skin seriously short on moisture. Prolonged or repeated exposure to hot water strips the protective oils from your skin, making it easier for water in your skin to evaporate. Modify your bathing habits to keep your skin happy: take shorter showers using mild soaps or cleansers and turn the dial to warm water instead of steaming hot.
Using fragrance-free moisturizers without alcohol helps to alleviate dryness. Body oils also help to lock in moisture. Apply lotion or body oil directly after a shower or bath while your skin is still damp to lock in moisture.
Rosa recommends looking for a skin-hydrating serum made with hyaluronic acid, which is generally tolerated by all skin types. Hyaluronic acid increases the ability of the individual skin cells to absorb and hold moisture, meaning that as lower skin cells rise to the surface, they look plump and healthy. Because the molecules in serums are smaller, they "better penetrate skin, working deeper to hydrate skin tissues [than other types of moisturizers]," Rosa says.
The skin on your hands is thin, and contains fewer oil glands than the skin covering other parts of your body — meaning even short exposure to the winter elements can leave your hands cracked and dry. Make sure to diligently apply your daily moisturizer before putting on your gloves and heading outside, try to avoid any fabrics that can irritate your skin (like wool), and change your gloves if they get wet.
Research shows that the chemicals in cigarette smoke create free radicals (highly-charged oxygen molecules) in the body that attack healthy tissues and alter the skin's elastic fibers, creating saggy, dry and darker or discolored skin.
These whole foods contain vitamins and minerals that keep skin soft, supple and smooth. Several studies show that vitamins A, C, E, and the B vitamin biotin work especially well in improving the appearance of skin. Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidants that work to fend off free radicals that attack and break down healthy skin tissue. Vitamin A deficiency is associated with dry, flaky skin, while biotin deficiency is associated with scaly, itchy skin (also known as dermatitis).
If you notice that your skin feels dry and irritated after putting on freshly laundered clothes or using a particular bath product, you may be allergic to one of the chemicals in your laundry detergent. Try dye- and fragrance-free laundry soap and dryer sheets, and switch to mild bath products specially formulated for sensitive skin.
Cranking the thermostat may help you feel warm and cozy on those cold winter nights, but that hot air dries out your skin. Humidifiers help counter the drying effects of indoor heating by adding warm moisture back into the air. Put a humidified in your bedroom or any other much-used room in your home.
If you think of sunscreen as a beach-day essential only, think again. Sunscreen is just as important in the wintertime, when the sun is actually closer to the earth and its rays are even stronger. While your shoulders and legs maybe bundled up and out of the sun's reach, your face and hands should still be protected with sunscreen every time you go outside.
Choose a multi-spectrum sunscreen offering ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) protection with an SPF of 15 or greater. Applying the sunscreen after your morning shower as part of your moisturizing routine will help you remember to use it. And make sure to use a water-resistant sunscreen if you will be playing in the snow!
If you have tried the above remedies with limited success, you may be dealing with a more serious skin problem. A dermatologist or seasoned skin expert will be able to detect your exact skin type and recommend a prescription or care regimen to help in more severe cases.
Published January 16, 2012.
Marlyne Perez has an undergraduate degree in Media Studies/Communications and is a Master of Dietetics candidate, April 2012. She is passionate about promoting and educating individuals on nutrition and fitness for overall healthy well-being and excellent quality of life.