In many parts of the country, winter weather is being especially unkind. While you may be bundling up in your winter wear and cranking up the heat, have you stopped to think how your skin may be faring?
"The substantial drop in moisture that occurs during the winter months can be damaging to your skin causing dryness, itching, irritation, cuts or sores," says Jill Weinstein, MD, dermatologist at Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group. "It's essential to change your skin care regimen each winter to rehydrate your skin and keep it moisturized."
Weinstein offers the following tips to banish dry skin and give your skin care routine a boost:
Skip the hot bath or shower – "Although soaking in a hot bath may feel great after being outside in the cold, the prolonged water exposure and heat breaks down the lipid barriers in the skin causing a loss in moisture," said Weinstein. "Keep showers and baths lukewarm and short, and opt for gentle cleansers that won't irritate your skin."
Moisturize frequently – Don't rely on your typical lotion to get you through the cold winter months. Creams offer more moisture than lotions; look for creams with ceramides which can help replenish the damaged skin barrier. Be sure to moisturize every time you wash your hands and get out of the shower and again before bed.
Shower then shave – Shaving can irritate dry skin. Men, shave after you get out of the shower. Women, save shaving for last while in the shower. This will give your pores time to open and your hair time to get softer. Be sure to always moisturize after shaving and change your razor often to prevent dull blades or build-up of bacteria.
Hook up a humidifier – Dry, hot air from a heater can leave sensitive skin parched and make itching and flaking worse. A portable humidifier or one attached to your furnace adds moisture to the air inside your home to help humidify the dry air and relieve itchy skin.
Protect your lips – "The biggest mistake you can make is to lick your lips when they are chapped," explained Weinstein. "Even though this may provide short-term relief, eventually your lips will dry out as the saliva evaporates. Help keep them moist by using an ointment-based lip balm or lubricating cream made with SPF and petrolatum or beeswax."
Grab a pair of gloves – Protecting your hands from the cold air and low humidity plays a significant role in preventing dry skin. Make sure your gloves are made of material that does not irritate your skin. During bitter cold days, layer a wool mitten over a cotton mitten to help keep your hands warm and dry. Wearing a cotton glove over your moisturizing cream at night is also very beneficial.
Apply sunscreen – "Sunscreen should be applied daily, not just in the summertime," said Weinstein. "The combination of winter sun and snow glare can damage your skin. Make sure you use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and re-apply every two hours if you're planning to be outdoors for an extended period of time."
Wear breathable fabrics – Cotton and silk are good choices for the winter months because they allow your skin to breathe. When you wash your clothes, use detergents without dyes or perfumes. Dressing in layers for warmth is important, but also prevents excessive sweating.
"Many cases of dry winter skin will clear up within a few weeks of adjusting your routine," adds Weinstein. "If your skin doesn't improve, consider calling your doctor. You could be dealing with eczema or psoriasis that requires more aggressive medical therapy."