With winter right around the corner, the thought of cozying up to a crackling fire, bundling up in a woolen sweater and taking a long, hot shower may be a welcome one. But our skin will pay for such niceties. As the air gets drier during the cold months, our skin loses moisture. Exposing skin to intense heat will dry it out more, and wearing wool next to our skin can irritate it, dermatologists say.
As we age, our skin produces fewer oils. Bathing with harsh soaps and hot water strips the skin of oils and proteins, leaving it dry, says Dr. Mona Gohara, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University. Skin’s natural pH level is 4.5 to 5.5. Gohara, who practices in Branford and Hamden, recommends avoiding soaps and cleansers with high pH levels.
The two basic steps to keeping skin supple involve adding moisture to the air and creating a barrier over the skin to lock in moisture and prevent it from drying out, says Dr. Philip Kerr, chair of the dermatology department at UConn Health in Farmington. Cold air holds less moisture, so the moisture in our skin evaporates through osmosis, causing skin to be drier in the winter.
“In general, the best moisturizing cream is the one that feels good on your skin that you will actually use,” he says. There are dozens of skincare products on the market because everyone’s skin is different, he says, adding, “You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a good cream.”
Gohara, Kerr and Dr. Lisa Donofrio, a dermatologist with Aria DermSpa in Madison, as well as the experts at the American Association of Dermatology, share skin-care tips for the approach of winter:
Prevent dry skin by using humidifiers to add moisture to the air. Other methods for boosting the air’s moisture level include placing bowls of water near a heat source, putting a kettle of water on a wood stove, drying clothes on a rack, setting vases of water near a sunny window, keeping lots of houseplants, cooking on the stove and leaving water in the tub after a bath.
Keep cold air out by insulating your home so you don’t have to crank up the heat, which dries the air. Seal air leaks in doors, windows and attics with weatherstripping or caulk.
Avoid fragrance in winter because it dries the skin. Cleansers, laundry detergent and fabric softeners that are fragrance-free are less drying than scented varieties, even those touted as infused with natural fragrance.
Shower using a moisturizing body wash. Some contain properties that bind to the skin and lock in moisture. If the body wash comes with a puff, use that puff to cause the product to foam so the emulsion, a mixture of water and oil, can do its job.
In winter, switch from lotion to cream. “Just like in the winter when you need heavier clothes, in the winter, you want to use a heavier cream because creams are more oil based,” Gohara says. For especially dry skin, ointment is even more effective than cream.
Limit showers to five minutes. After a lukewarm shower, immediately apply moisturizer to wet skin, then pat dry. The sooner the cream is applied, the better to lock in the water on your skin’s surface.
Look for active ingredients such as ceramides (lipids found naturally in skin), niacin (forms of vitamin B3) and alpha hydroxy acids (derived from fruit and milk sugars).
Avoid mineral oil and baby oil, which tend to make people break out. Opt instead for seed-based oils such as grape seed or sesame seed. It takes practice to determine how much is too much or too little, but applying seed-based oils directly to skin can work even better than cream for those with especially dry skin.
Other oils that form a barrier to lock in moisture include shea butter, unrefined coconut oil, cocoa butter, lanolin, and jojoba butter.
To protect hands, wear rubber gloves while washing dishes or cleaning with water.
Avoid hand sanitizer or use one that contains moisturizer. Try opting instead for fragrance-free soap or cleanser and water, followed by hand cream.
Before bed, apply cream, ointment or oil to hands and wear cotton gloves or socks to trap moisture.
If you’re already using cream containing a retinoid, winter may be the time to lower your dose. If you’re starting a new course of treatment, ask your dermatologist for a low-strength emollient cream.
Outdoors, protect skin with gloves, a hat and scarf, especially on cold, windy days.
Wear long, cotton socks rather than ankle socks to prevent dry skin on calves.
Those with diabetes, thyroid abnormalities or anemia are more prone to dry skin, so their skin may need extra care.
Stay hydrated with water and other beverages. The National Academy of Medicine suggests 15.5 cups for men (124 ounces) and 11.5 cups for women (92 ounces) daily. Some of that can come from water-containing foods.
Nourish your skin from the inside with a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats found in seeds, nuts, salmon, olive oil and avocado, Gohara says.
Wear sunscreen year-round.