Quench Your Skin
There is nothing like the cold months to suck the life out of your skin. Dullness? Check. Flakiness? Double check. Cranked furnaces, hot showers, and the natural elements of winter—dry air, snow, wind—can all dehydrate your exterior, causing the epidermis—the outermost layer of the skin—to become chapped, itchy, and even cracked. Scratching can even make it worse, often creating eczema, a red and scaly inflammation, says Charles Zugerman, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Northwestern University.
But by understanding some of the main causes of dryness, and using some natural remedies, you can quell even the most aggravated of winter skin. Here are some routine changes and natural tips to help you go from sandpaper to silk.
Oil and Water Do Mix
According to Zugerman, the normal barrier function of the skin is dependent upon oil and water, which keeps harmful pollutants from entering the body and keeps in beneficial water moisture. Because colder air is less humid, says Zugerman, it can be detrimental to the exterior, naturally wicking away moisture from the skin and disrupting the two vital components of this barrier.
Deborah Burnes, author of Look Great, Live Green (Hunter House, 2009), recommends using a product with hyaluronic acid—a lubricating substance naturally found in the body—to help plump the skin and keep it supple. “You need the fluid between the cells, which we lose when we age and get dehydrated,” she says. “And oil content is very important for keeping the skin moisturized.” Burnes recommends using a serum or cream that contains thinner oils, such as carrot or rosehip, on the face, and a thicker oil, body lotion or butter to keep skin protected and quenched everywhere else.
It is important to make sure your pores are in shape, says Burnes. Due to the harsh winter climate, air pollution, artificial ingredients, silicones, and other lifestyle factors, the skin can become congested, and therefore cannot properly absorb nutrients and excrete waste.
A mild detoxifying cleanser will help to rid impurities and allow moisturizing products to optimally nourish and moisturize.
As good as it feels during the colder months, a steamy shower is one of the main culprits stripping skin of its natural oils. Julie Ebner, owner of Juju Spa and Organics in Philadelphia, recommends cutting down on overall bathing and shampooing during winter. Gently exfoliate the body with a mild salt or sugar scrub and stay away from any soaps that contain detergents or synthetics—both are drying, says Burnes. Opt for ones that are not milled and are handmade with only a few natural ingredients. Once clean, gently towel dry and apply moisturizer or lotion. “Moisturizers are best put on within two
or three minutes of getting out of the shower,” says Zugerman.
Rethink Your Shampoo
Those fruity suds may rid your hair of dirt, but they also strip away moisture from your scalp and body. Choose shampoos free of any detergents, preservatives or artificial fragrances— all ingredients that are drying for the hair and skin, says Burnes. An ingredient to look for? “Apple cider vinegar,” says Ebner. It naturally restores the PH levels of the hair and skin, which can be compromised when you get sick or are trapped indoors.
The Heating Culprit
While the outdoors can be harsh on the skin, it’s often the opposite that wreaks even more havoc. “Another huge problem we overlook is that we are insidewith heaters on,” say Ebner. “This causes the air to be dry.” She recommends using a humidifier while you sleep and in any particular room where you spend a lot of time during the day, such as your office, to put moisture back into your environment.
A healthy diet—a vital component to skin care year round—is essential to bolstering skin that is vulnerable during winter. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is key, along with taking a high quality omega-3 fatty acid supplement, which nourishes the hair and skin, helping to ease any inflammation, says Ebner. Proper internal hydration is also a must. “People remember to do that during the summer because it’s so hot,” says Ebner. “But they forget how important water is during the winter months.”
Handle With Care
Frequent hand washing can deplete the skin of moisture, often leading to cracking and even painful fissures, says Zugerman. When necessary, cleanse hands with a mild and handmade soap and then apply a moisturizing cream. Also remember to treat your toes. According to Ebner, because feet are often cooped up in boots, shoes, and heavy socks during winter, they need some extra care. Use a natural foot scrub to help get rid of dead skin and promote circulation, she says. Follow with a moisturizer that contains thick emollients, like shea butter and avocado oil. And for extra pampering, slather on before bedtime and put on a pair of cotton socks.
There’s nothing like some activity to combat a dull tone. “Exercise is huge to keep blood circulating, to keep nutrients going, and moving lymph around,” says Ebner. “This is essential to keeping your body balanced and your skin moisturized.”