It’s officially fall, but in many parts of the US it already feels like winter. As soon as the temperature drops, my skin (along with many others) becomes uncomfortably dry and parched.
Severely dry skin isn’t just a cosmetic issue, but a health one as well. Cracks and scratches in the skin caused by constant itching can allow bacteria or viruses to enter the body resulting in infections. Plus, ask anyone who has ever had severely chapped hands, lips, or both and they will tell you it can be downright painful.
As someone who has suffered since childhood and seen numerous doctors as well as read countless articles and books on the subject, I have picked up some useful tips and hints over the years.
Below are four of the most useful ones. While there is nothing anyone of us can do about the cold weather, we need not have to suffer its effects on our skin.
1. Keep bathing and showering time to a minimum.
While it’s natural to crave a long, hot bath after a cold day, bathing for a long time in hot water can be catastrophic for dry skin. Hot water tends draws out moisture-something that our skin cannot afford to lose when it already running low.
The best temperature to bath or shower in is warm, not hot.
In her bestselling book, Skin Type Solutions, dermatologist Leslie Baumann recommends that those of us with dry, sensitive skin bath or shower for no more than 10 minutes maximum. Those with severely dry may wish to aim for 5 minutes. (Yes, it can be done.)
2. Considering switching from soap to body wash.
Soap is great for cleaning. However, the problem is soap can clean too well and strip the skin of its natural oils.
Body washes tend to be milder than soap, but check the ingredient lists. Usually, those with sulfites and fragrances at the beginning of the list are not good for our type of skin.
For those who really love soap and cannot bear to give it up, at least switch to a super-fatted one. Deodorant soaps in general tend to be too drying.
3. When it comes to moisturizing keep the words “quick” and “layering” in mind.
No matter what the price tag or if it’s a fancy department store or spa brand or plain old coconut oil, all moisturizers work by increasing the skin’s water content by reducing evaporation. The best time to apply it is within five minutes after washing. (Some people even keep oil or lotion in the shower so they can apply immediately afterwards.
I also like a “layering” method I learned about while pregnant and suffering from a very itchy belly: apply oil and then a lotion on top of the oil.
While many of us automatically apply moisturizer to the face, limbs, and hands it’s important to remember the feet as well. Not only are the heels one of the driest parts of the body, but cracked heels can be pure hell in cold weather.
A heavier moisturizer or a product formulated especially for the feet may be required.
Ideally, a good foot cream should keep the feet soft by not overly moist or “slimy”. While we may not think about it as a winter woe, athlete’s foot can occur any time of the year and damp, moist environment provide a perfect breeding ground for it.
Layering also works well for lips as well as we head outdoors. I like to apply a light lip balm and follow it with a heavier non-petroleum jelly on top. (This can also work for rough, dry cuticles.)
4. Increase your water and Omega 3 intake.
Many of us hear the word moisturizing and think only of lotions and oils applied to the outside of the body. However, the truth is what we eat or drink can have a positive or negative effect on the moisture content on our skin.
While we should make sure we are well-hydrated throughout the year to avoid dehydration, drinking enough water in the winter may help the skin retain water. Upping our daily dose of Omega 3 fatty acids can be useful, too, though not everyone is in agreement on this. At the very least, there is evidence that Omega 3s can reduce inflammation and irritated skin tends to be inflamed.
The best sources of Omega 3 fatty acids are cold water fish, walnuts, and flax seeds. There are also supplements as well. However, it’s best to ask a healthcare professional for advice before taking any supplements. It is possible to overdo it with Omega 3 fatty acids, and those with blood clotting disorders should always ask their doctors before supplementing.
In conclusion, even those of us who love the winter know that it can be harsh on our skin. However, we need not suffer with dry, flaky lizard skin.
As the above tips show, dry skin can be prevented and best of all, it need not take a ton of effort. In most cases, all it takes is a few extra minutes to ensure our skin looks and feels the best it can even in freezing cold temperatures.
If none of these things help, then consider seeing a dermatologist. It isn’t about being vain, but caring for our health and frankly, we are worth it because all of us only ever get one skin to live in.
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Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Shawn Campbell at Flickr