Caring of Your Skin in Cold Weather: A Hands on Look at Winter Skin Care

November 03, 2010

Woman moisturizing her skin

Our skin is an amazing organ. It holds miles of nerve endings that help us feel and it keeps our body temperatures regular by doing things without us even having to tell it to.

But even some of the greatest things our skin does aren't enough to keep us cool in the summer or warm in the winter.

Dried out and itchy

During the winter months when the air is much drier than in the summer, the moisture that usually keeps our skin healthy and soft is wicked away. Our body makes an oil from glands in our skin that keep the outermost layer of skin nice and moist, which keeps this layer of skin from drying out. According to the University of Iowa's Hospital and Clinics Department of Dermatology, when the moisture on the surface of the skin is sucked up by dry winter air, normal activities like using soap reduce the amount of oil in the skin, so that outer layer of skin shrinks. When it shrinks, it cracks and the layers of skin underneath are exposed, causing dry skin and itching.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to keep your skin feeling nice and smooth.

  1. Shorten your showers to no more than 10 minutes and watch the water temperature. Although it's nice to warm up in the morning, a long, hot shower strips your body of the natural oils in your skin.
  2. Shop for soap that's mild and less drying. Soap is made to break down oils, even the ones in your skin.
  3. Pat your body dry. Too much rubbing on tender skin can cause irritation and damage.
  4. Moisturize. Moisturize. Moisturize. Better yet, according to dermatologist, Dr. Kathy Fields, find a lotion that's hyaluronic acid-based to boost the amount of water that's drawn into your skin. Also, use lotion throughout the day to keep your skin from getting thirsty.
  5. Use a humidifier. It will help keep moisture in the air, rather than letting the air wick away the moisture in your skin.

Help for chapped lips

Chapped and dry lips are a common skin problem during the winter months. But there are a few helpful steps you can take to keep your smackers supple and smooth.

  • Stay hydrated. If your lips are chapped, water will help them heal and keep your mouth from drying out, too.
  • Use a humidifier. Just like the rest of your skin, the lips suffer when winter's dry air evaporates the moisture from them. A humidifier will keep the air from drying you out.
  • Beeswax and petroleum jelly act as an extra layer of protection for your lips. They seal in moisture and protect them from harsh winter winds.
  • Use lipstick or lip balm with sunscreen when going out. Added protection from the sun will help keep your lips from getting sunburned and making chapped lips even worse.
  • Don't lick your lips. It might help in the short term - it might even make them feel better - but when cold air hits your wet lips, it does more harm than good.

Give them a hand

Probably the first place you'll notice the effects of cold winter weather is on your hands. And like the rest of your body, your hands keep their moisture with the help of the oils in your skin. The general advice for hands over the winter months is to wash them often to avoid getting colds and the flu. All that hand washing can lead to dry and cracked hands, which can be annoying and downright painful. But you can take steps to keep your hands in great shape.

  1. Try to wear gloves every time you go out. Even a short time outside in the cold can hurt your hands. Spending even more time out in the cold can lead to numbness and permanent damage such as frostbite. Save your hands by keeping them covered and warm when you're outside.
  2. Use oil-based lotions in the morning, during the day, and before you go to bed. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic say that oil-based lotions leave a light residue and have more staying power than water-based lotions that are more likely to dry up in water-hungry cold, dry air.
  3. Wear gloves when washing dishes, cleaning, or while doing hand-work around the house. Your skin would usually protect you from cleaning products or from small bumps or scrapes. By dry skin loses its stretchiness, or elasticity, and a scrape can become a cut. Household chemicals can also become major irritants.
  4. Try Vaseline with a pair of gloves at night. Dermatologist Dr. Katy Rodan even suggests a pair of silicone-lined gloves, which promote occlusion, or penetration of moisturizer.

Sometimes your body's first line of protection needs a little protection of its own. With these tips, you can keep your skin supple, strong and ready for winter's worst.

To learn more, visit the following sites:

www.medicinenet.com
www.mayoclinic.com
www.uihealthcare.com

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