By Doris Day MD
I admit I much prefer warmer sunnier weather over the cold winter months but I try to find the bright side of the season and keep in mind that spring is waiting just on the other side. The winter season with the cold, crisp air, can be beautiful and invigorating in many ways. It can also be very stressful on your skin, especially when transitioning from warmer summer and autumn months to cold, windy and drier winter air.
These changes make your skin look and feel dry, dull and older than its years, and it can also spur flare-ups of skin conditions such as acne and eczema. One of the biggest mistakes many people make with the change of seasons is to neglect to adjust their skin care routine. The good news is that there are simple changes you can make to prevent the stress of cold weather from affecting your skin.
Decreased temperatures mean a drop in humidity levels, taking moisture not only out of the air, but also pulling it out of your skin. While staples like a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water are crucial for healthy skin, making a few skincare changes and adopting a handful of new habits can help manage the discomfort of the Dry Skin Season and keep your skin feeling silky smooth and soft year round. Here’s my quick hit list:
1. Don’t crank up the heat. Turning up the heat indoors seems like a natural response to chilly winter weather, but raising the thermostat indoors dries the air and skin out even more. The result is dry, flaky skin that is itchy and uncomfortable.
2. Get a humidifier. To remedy a dry home, bring in a humidifier and set humidity level between 45% and 55% to infuse the air with enough moisture for you skin to reap the benefits.
3. Take quick warm (not hot!) showers. A long hot shower may feel heavenly on cold mornings, but it strips out the water and natural oils in your skin, thus drying it out. Limit showers to 15-minutes or less, using warm water, rather than hot water.
4. Don’t use harsh soap. Deodorant and antibacterial soaps are especially harsh on your skin, compromising your skin’s natural moisture barrier. Instead, opt for mild, fragrance-free cleansers that contain moisturizers within them.
5. Use a rich creamy moisturizer. After showering, blot or pat excess water off your body, instead of roughly rubbing your skin with a towel. Next, apply a body moisturizer while your skin is still damp. Use a formula that gently sloughs off dry, dead skin cells, while also locking in moisture. Look for a cream over a lotion in the winter and also check for ceramides on the ingredient list. They are naturally found in the skin’s outer layer, and using shea butter to help to retain moisture, can help to replenish the skin’s moisture barrier.
6. Give your hands extra TLC. We’re told to wash our hands all the time to avoid the flu, but over-washing is one of the worst culprits of hand dermatitis and actually increases your risk of infection because broken skin is not healthy skin and bacteria and germs are better able to penetrate and cause problems. Dry hands can also feel very itchy and look unsightly. Be sure to moisturize your hands every time after washing. Also, trade in traditional hand sanitizer for a combination sanitizer that contains moisturizer or lotion.
7. Soften your soles. Your regular body lotion or cream may not be enough for your feet. Look for a thicker richer cream or ointment to penetrate rough, dry skin on feet. Soak your feet in lukewarm water and three tablespoons of honey, for about 10 minutes, pat dry then add a thick moisturizer or ointment and then wrap in plastic wrap and wear white socks over it overnight to wake up to soft smooth hydrated feet.
8. Ease up on facial exfoliating. Reduce the frequency of facial peels and masks to avoid irritating your skin. If your skin stings or burns when you apply moisturizer after exfoliating, or a peel, that’s a sign that it’s too dry and it means you need to space out the treatments and also use a richer moisturizer.
9. Wear sunscreen. This is important every day all year round. Studies show that those who wore sun screen every day instead of only on warm sunny days, had a significantly lower risk of both skin cancer and also of signs of aging in the skin, such as dark spots and wrinkles.
10. Wear layers. Avoid putting on abrasive or irritating fabrics like wool or polyester directly against your skin, especially the neck. Stick to soft fabrics, such as cotton, especially if they are in direct contact with your skin.
If stubborn dry skin is causing extreme discomfort, seek out professional advice. Your dermatologist can analyze your skin type and create a customized skin care routine just for you. In certain cases, extremely dry skin can be an indicator of a larger medical issue, such as diabetes or an underactive thyroid. Your doctor can evaluate and help guide you to beautiful soft skin this winter and all year round.
Dr. Day, a dermatologist, is affiliated with NYU Langone Hospital.