When the air starts to chill, your body tries to hold in heat by narrowing the blood vessels, says Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. As a result, she explains, the outer layers of the skin become dry and dull, leading to pesky problems like flakes and cracks. While we here in Sacramento enjoy a fairly mild climate, our skin reacts to cooler winter temperatures. And the effects are heightened if we hit the ski slopes, cycle, or run outside.
Here are some tips for keeping your skin smooth, healthy, and itch-free this winter.
Lips. Unfortunately, lips and hands often bear the brunt of winter's havoc. Lips are especially prone to chapping. If you go outside when temps are low without a protective barrier on your lips, they will dry out and continued exposure can make them red, sore, and flaky. Avoid chapping by:
- Any balm that contains wheat germ oil, almond oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, aloe vera, shea butter, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, or calendula oil can do the trick to protect lips.
- Avoid wearing long-lasting matte lipsticks, as their ingredients tend to be very drying.
- For severe chapping, apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment.
Scalp. Is it snowing on your shoulders? Dry scalp and dandruff tend to be common in the winter months. While they both have common symptoms of itching and flaking, the two conditions have some important differences. Dry scalp is just that: dry flaking skin. The main cause of dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis, a condition that turns the skin oily, red, and scaly, and can be triggered by a fungus that normally lives on your scalp. Stress and cool weather can cause some people to have too much of the fungus, which causes skin cells to multiply more quickly than usual, creating seborrheic dermatitis. Here are tips for dealing with both:
- One way to figure out whether you have dry scalp versus dandruff is to apply a light moisturizer to your scalp before you go to bed. If the cause is dry scalp, the flakes should disappear once you shower the next morning.
- Dandruff can typically be treated with over the counter shampoos. Look for shampoos with ingredients designed to kill or reduce the fungus on your scalp that's causing buildup and flakes, like pyrithione zinc, selenium sulfide, and ketoconazole.
- For dry scalp, switch to gentler shampoos and conditioners and avoid clarifying or abrasive products that will strip your hair and scalp of the natural oils needed to lock in moisture.
- Reduce the heat on your hair. When you can, air dry your hair or use rollers instead of irons to add wave.
Face. The change in weather plus indoor heating robs the air of moisture, and that dry air leads to cracks in the outer layer of skin, loss of hydration, and ultimately, inflammation, Protect your delicate facial skin by following this advice:
- Switch up your products based on the season. Warmer temps call for lighter products, while winter weather requires heavier products. Swap your gel cleanser for a cream cleanser, or your lightweight moisturizer for one that is ceramide-based.
- Speaking of cleansing, keep it gentle! Avoid harsh or abrasive chemicals and opt for fragrance-free, bland cleansers. (Cetaphil is a great option).
- Always block the sun. It's tempting to skip the sunscreen when temperatures drop, but harmful ultra-violet rays are present year round. Continue to protect your skin from the sun, but feel free to select a moisturizing sunscreen.
- Try an anti-oxidant serum. Serums are known for being better absorbed by the skin so they can deliver targeted moisture. Select a moisturizing serum with anti-oxidants like Vitamin C, which promotes collagen production and reduces inflammation.
Hands. Dry, chappy hands are no fun, but are all too common in the winter. They are especially tricky to deal with because winter and cold and flu season are one and the same. The best way to prevent the spread of germs is frequent hand washing....but frequent hand washing dries out the skin! Here are a few ways to deal with this:
- Start moisturizing hands before they get dry. Rubbing lotion on them once a day isn't enough--you need four to six applications during the course of a day. So keep your hand lotion next to the sink, at your work station, and in your purse or gym bag.
- Select the right moisturizer. Store shelves are full of options, but your best bet is to look for a lotion with two important types of ingredients: emollients and humectants.
- Emollients help keep the skin soft, smooth, and pliable (by filling the crevices between cells that are ready to be shed and helping loose edges of the dead skin cells that are left behind stick together). Look for ingredients such aslanolin, jojoba oil, isopropylpalmitate, propylene glycol linoleate, squalene, and glycerol stearate.
- Humectants draw moisture from the environment to the skin's surface, increasing the water content of the skin's outer layer. Check the ingredients label for common humectants such asglycerin,hyaluronic acid,sorbitol, propylene glycerol, urea, andlactic acid.
- Avoid alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Wear gloves. Outside, of course, but inside when you are doing chores that frequently lead to wet hands, like cleaning or loading the dishwasher.
Everywhere Else. Tips like switching to gentler cleansers and creamier moisturizers work for the rest of your body, too. One tip is especially vital: good hydration starts on the inside. Make sure your body is nourished with enough water, which will ensure that your skin, nails, hair, and scalp are all getting adequate hydration to stay healthy in the cold. When it’s warm outside, it’s easy to load up on liquids, but just because the heat goes away, doesn’t mean your body needs less hydration. Check out these tips for staying hydrated year round, and drink up!