Caring for Your Skin in Winter

Health, Home & Family
on November 25, 2007

Winter can be rough on your skin. Cold, dry air and harsh winds, combined with indoor heating that removes moisture from the air, can result in skin that’s dry and chapped. Here are some ways to keep your skin soft and supple through the winter months:

Moisturize often. “Moisturizers work by trapping water in the skin, making it feel good,” says Dr. Kenneth Bielinski, a dermatologist in Orland Park, Ill. (pop. 51,077). “Find a moisturizer you like and use it often. Plain old petroleum jelly works well but many people object to its greasy feel. The next most effective moisturizers are creams, followed by lotions. In winter, you may find it helpful to switch from your regular product to a thicker one.”

Keep a small tube of moisturizer with you to use on your hands, face, elbows or other dry areas. Carry a small tube of lip balm in your pocket or purse to use whenever your lips feel dry, and avoid licking your lips, as this causes chapping. Lip balm also can soothe irritated nostrils or cracked fingertips.

“In cold weather my hands and feet get uncomfortable,” says Judy Levitan, 70, a teacher in East Norriton, Pa. (pop. 13,211). “Before bed, I apply globs of moisturizer to my feet and put on cotton socks. When going out, I always wear gloves to protect my hands and apply hand cream often.”

Use a humidifier. Central heating systems dry out indoor air. Humidifiers replace moisture in the air, which helps keep your skin moist.

Exfoliate. If your skin is oily, use a loofah sponge or a product containing beta hydroxy acid, sometimes called salicylic acid, to help remove the buildup of dead skin cells, says Dr. Jerome Litt, a dermatologist in Beachwood, Ohio (pop. 12,186). Don’t exfoliate often—once a week is enough—and be gentle. If your skin is dry or exfoliating irritates your skin, don’t do it.

Use sunscreen. All sun exposure—including winter’s rays—can damage skin. Using sunscreen, preferably one with an SPF rating of 30 or higher, should be part of your daily skin care routine year-round, Litt says. Apply sunscreen to your face and any other exposed body parts.

Shower gently. Shower in warm, not hot, water, Bielinski advises, and use a mild cleanser rather than a harsh deodorant soap. After bathing, pat skin dry—don’t rub—and immediately apply moisturizer all over your body.

Avoid irritating fabrics. Skin often is more sensitive in cold weather, and can be irritated by clothing made of wool or synthetic fabrics. If you wear wool for warmth, layer it over a long-sleeved shirt made of cotton or another soft fabric.

Avoid the hair dryer. If your skin is very dry, limit your use of the hair dryer to avoid frequent blasts of hot air.

Nourish your skin. Eat a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of deep green or orange produce, such as broccoli, carrots, squash and cantaloupe—good sources of Vitamin A, an important nutrient for skin health, says Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian in Sudbury, Mass. (pop. 16,841). Low-fat dairy products also contain Vitamin A. Blake also recommends eating more cold-water fish, such as salmon and herring, because the high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids the fish contain help keep skin healthy. Other good sources of omega 3s are walnuts, tofu, flaxseeds and canola oil. Ask your doctor before taking any supplements. Remember that a diet that’s good for your overall health also benefits your skin.