Winter Skin Care
The cold winter months are upon us, and Old Man Winter is out to make our skin look as dry and worn as his. The cold air outside can actually damage the top layer of cells, making our skin red and itchy. Then we move indoors where dry artificially-heated air dries out our skin. It’s a double whammy that can leave us feeling like we have lizard skin. So how do we prevent that? Here’s a simple-to-follow winter skin care regimen to keep your skin soft and youthful, despite winter’s bite.
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean we can forget about protecting our skin from its worst enemy. It’s not the heat of the sun that damages our skin, but the ultraviolet radiation. While the lower angle of the sun in winter usually means less intense ultraviolet with sunlight reflecting off the snow, there are still days when ultraviolet exposure can actually be worse than some summer days. In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, snow can reflect up to 80% of the sun’s light.
Even on gray days you should be wearing at least an SPF 15 sunscreen, and higher on bright days.
While lotions are good for warm summer days, in winter your skin will need something more robust. Creams and ointments will provide better moisturization and protection from the drying effects of winter air. Remember to apply to your hands as well. We should wash our hand more often in winter to avoid getting sick, but all that washing also dries out your skin so don’t overdo it. Apply a moisturizer immediately after washing and give your face and neck a rub with it as well.
While drugstore moisturizers may be OK for summer, most of these will only sit on the surface and won’t provide the deep penetration your skin needs in winter. Talk to us about pro skin care products, and if your uncertain if pro products really are better than drugstore brands, please read our article on the difference between pro and drugstore brand skincare products.
Less Heat or More Moisture – Pick One
Artificially heated indoor air tends to be very dry – sometimes lacking any humidity at all. This is very bad for our skin. To avoid the drying effects of this air, you’ll either need to lower your thermostat or invest in a humidifier. If you’re going to go with the first option, the lower the temperature you can be comfortable in the better. You should never have your thermostat set above 72 degrees.
Shorter, Cooler Showers
Even if you have soft water, hot water will also dry out your skin. In summer, with much higher humidity in the air, this isn’t so much of an issue, but in winter long, hot showers or baths multiply the drying effects of the air. Keep showers and baths to 5 to 10 minutes and hold the temperature at the lowest setting you can be comfortable with. Also remember to avoid excessively hot water when washing your hands. If the water is turning your skin red, it’s too hot!
If you’re using a hair dryer or hand dryer in a public washroom, stop before your hair or skin is completely dry. By stopping at the slightly damp stage you’ll avoid a lot of the drying effect of the hot air. This is better for your hands and your scalp. The one exception to this is if you are about to go outside. Obviously having damp hair in the cold won’t be good for your health, so dry completely in this case.
Many bar soaps will actually dry out your skin. If you prefer a bar soap to a cleanser look for one that contains a moisturizer, such as Dove. Better though is to use a fragrance-free cleanser or gel as the chemicals in added fragrances can also dry out your skin. And be sure to look for ‘fragrance-free’, rather than ‘unscented’. The two terms mean different things and ‘unscented’ may actually still contain small amounts of fragrance.
Avoid Toners and Astringents
Toners, and especially astringents may contain alcohol and other chemicals that dry out your skin. It’s important in winter to allow your skin to retain as much of its natural oils as possible. Your skin is actually quite good at protecting itself, but unfortunately to allow it to do that we’d have to avoid washing. Not exactly an ideal solution. However, even with modern hygiene we should be striving for a balance between cleanliness and allowing our body to protect itself. You shouldn’t need to be washing your face more than twice a day unless you are very young and suffering from acne. In this case, you might still get away with washing more frequently and even using astringents sparingly.
Wear Layers That Breathe
It’s important to stay warm, but there’s a right and wrong way to protect ourselves from the cold. While wool is a fantastic insulator, in direct contact with our skin the fibers can cause already dry skin to become even more irritated. A wool layer is good on very cold days, but wear another layer underneath that will be kinder to your skin. Silk is best, followed by artificial fabrics. Cotton is not good next to our skin in winter. It traps moisture that robs us of insulation.
In addition, if you do end up with damp or wet layers next to your skin, change your clothes as soon as it’s practical to do so. Cold damp clothing will irritate your skin and wick away the natural oils that protect it.
Be Lip Proactive
One of the most common issues many of us experience in winter is chapped lips. While some people are more susceptible than others, in most cases much of the issue can be avoided by being proactive with lip protection. We make the mistake of waiting until our lips are already dry and chapped before applying lip balm. You should start applying several times per day as soon as the air starts to get chilly. Prevention, in this case, is much easier than cure.
If you are very susceptible and your lips are remaining dry and chapped despite regular applications of balm, we recommend that you see your doctor or dermatologist. Allowing your lips to go all winter in this state will age them much faster, so you should be working to avoid this as much as possible.
Eat Right and Stay Active
You can greatly reduce the effects of winter air on your skin by eating right and exercising. Remember that our bodies get healthy from the inside out. Anything we apply to our skin is a treatment or prevention, but it’s better to avoid the root causes of the problems in the first place. A healthy diet will ensure that our body has all the nutrients it needs to properly feed our skin, and of course good hydration is also very important. Exercise simply makes our body stronger, more resistant to infection, and better able to function at peak efficiency.