Women: 10 Ways to Protect Your Skin in Winter
By Dr. Loretta Davis
Georgia Regents Medical Center Dermatology Clinic
Dry winter air can be brutal on a woman’s skin. Think of it as a multi-layer cake covered by a single sheet of food wrap to keep it fresh. When something threatens that protective covering, your skin, like a cake, can become dry and stale.
The low humidity in a southern winter can leave skin dry, itchy and irritated. But there are many simple ways to weather its effects and keep your skin feeling moist and supple all season long. Here are my top 10 recommendations for healthy skin this winter:
- Choose your soap wisely. If it’s not a gentle formula already, then switch your cleanser to a gentler one. A strong, antibacterial, deodorant soap usually contains irritating ingredients and fragrances. Use a fragrance-free, moisturizing cleanser or gel. Sometimes less is more - reducing the amount of soap you use will also help keep skin moist.
- Modify your facial skin care routine. Avoid toners and astringents or use them sparingly since most contain skin-drying alcohol. Cream-based facial cleansers are a better option. Be sure to use a moisturizing makeup for your face during the day and apply richer moisturizer on your face at night before bed.
- Moisturize your skin frequently. It’s best to moisturize your entire body immediately after washing in order to lock in the water gained from your shower or bath. First, pat your skin dry, and then use an oil-based or ointment moisturizer. Ointment, by definition, consists of 80 percent oil and 20 percent water. This water-in-oil emulsion forms a protective layer on the skin that makes it more effective than creams or lotions. If you don’t like the feel of ointment, then creams are the next best bet. You may want to rethink citric acids and other popular fragrances of body lotions during the winter months as they can burn or irritate the skin.
- Protect your hands. Because we wash our hands so often on a daily basis, I am addressing hand care separately. This frequent washing quickly drains hands of all their moisture. In order to retain more moisture, avoid using excessively hot water for hand washing. Also, apply hand cream after every washing to prevent chapping and cracking, which can lead to bleeding where the knuckles and fingers bend if not lubricated properly. And grab those gloves when you go outdoors to protect hands from wind damage. Make sure your gloves are made from materials that don’t irritate your skin, or you’re defeating the gloves’ purpose. Also, take advantage of those specially-made gloves for wearing while doing the dishes and other sink chores. They offer tremendous protection.
- Take lukewarm showers. When it’s cold, we have a tendency to want to take a long, relaxing, hot bath or shower. But, remember, hot water dries out the skin by stripping its natural oils. Just as when washing hands, use warm or lukewarm water when bathing. Furthermore, keep shower time short in winter - no more than 10 minutes - and only once within a 24-hour period in order to retain the most moisture.
- Spare the blow dryer. This is a tough one, ladies. The blow dryer can harm the skin in winter. The hot air produced by this handy cosmetic device dries out your scalp and can irritate your skin too. So, put it away when you can, and let your hair dry naturally indoors during the winter. Not only will you help your skin, but you’ll help your hair stay healthier as well.
- Use a humidifier. A humidifier helps replace the moisture that evaporates in the dryer winter air. If you don’t have one, you can buy a humidifier from your local pharmacy or retail store. For best results, use the humidifier in the rooms you spend the most time in, like a family room or the bedroom. Aim for levels of 30 to 50 percent humidity.
- Turn down the heat. Hot air is drier than cool air. So, don’t crank up the heat when it’s cold outside. Instead, try setting your thermostat at a cool, yet comfortable temperature between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent skin from losing moisture.
- Bundle up. Wear the appropriate clothing for the temperature and dress in layers. Wear soft, breathable materials against your skin and then pull on a warm sweater. Wearing layers allows you to remove clothing as needed to prevent overheating, which can trigger a scratch/itch cycle. Individuals with eczema-prone skin should avoid direct contact with wool, which can be most irritating.
- Use sun screen. Yes, even in winter. Apply a sun screen with at least an SPF of 15, and apply lip balm to protect the lips. Most include sun screen, but check the label to be sure before purchasing your lip balm. And, finally, beware of medications that could make you more vulnerable to sunburn, such as antibiotics and blood pressure pills. If you are not sure, check with your doctor about the medicines you take.
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