Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn/Winter Copyright 2008. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
When the weather outside is frightful, is your skin less than delightful? Unfortunately, dry winter skin is a common problem for most people, due to lower moisture levels outside and the drying effect of heating systems inside. If dryness, flaking, itching, cracking, and redness increase for your skin during the winter months, you're not alone. According to a November 2005 study published in Dermatology, seasonal outbreaks of eczema in the United States are prominent, with most patients presenting symptoms in the winter, especially in climates where indoor heating zaps all the humidity from the air.
Instead of covering up the problem with sweaters and scarves, keep skin healthy and radiant all year long using some simple steps.
First thing's first--even though most people's skin reacts poorly to the harsh conditions of winter, that doesn't mean all skin should be treated the same for seasonal dryness and itching. Everyone's skin and conditions vary. Seeking out the advice of a skin care professional will give you the right answers.
Typically, if you have chronically dry skin, the condition can get worse in the wintertime, if your skin is typically more oily, you will want to moisturize more during the colder months, but be careful not to over-moisturize with too oily a product.
To protect against harsh conditions, choose an oil-based moisturizer, but make sure the oil used in the product is noncomedogenic, meaning it doesn't clog pores. Avocado oil, primrose oil, or almond oil are all non-clogging, as is jojoba wax ester. "Jojoba wax ester has the unique property of being chemically similar to human sebum, so it's nonallergenic, doesn't clog pores, and is assimilated into the epidermis very easily," says Bob Butler, founder of Jojoba Company, based in Waldoboro, Maine. "It's a great emollient. You could add a couple drops of jojoba ester to your normal summertime moisturizer to turn it into a great wintertime protector."
To find out which wintertime skin regimen is best for you, talk to your esthetician and see what he or she recommends.
Taking location into account is also an important part of winter skin care. Even though temperatures have dropped across the country, not all places are created equal when it comes to wintertime climates. If you live in an especially dry area, it's sure to get even dryer in the wintertime--think high altitude alpine environments or deserts. In overly dry areas like these, it's vital to use the right kind of moisturizer--one that doesn't contain humectants. "Humectants, when used in the right environment, work wonderfully. But they require moisture, and if there is none in the air, they have to take it from the skin. This is a big issue with people who live in dry climates because there is little moisture in the air," says Victoria Rayner, founder of skin care facilities in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., that provide esthetics training and esthetician licensing preparation. If you do not have oily skin, Rayner recommends using an occlusive product that will seal in moisture while in a dry environment. "An oil-based product is best in this situation," Rayner says.
Try Magical Masks
If your daily moisturizer isn't doing the trick, try a high-intensity hydration mask once a week. "Hydration masks are key to long-term results when addressing winter skin complaints," says Celia Lang, spa manager and licensed esthetician for Weleda North America, a natural skin care company based in Palisades, New York. "If you are not properly hydrated, then you can't expect skin cells to normalize or respond to a problem." Following a moisturizing cleanse, Lang suggests leaving a hydrating mask on the skin for at least 10 minutes and up to a half hour to allow the healing properties to fully penetrate the epidermis. Masks should be performed about once a month. For daily care, be sure to use a moisturizing day cream that contains sun block to prevent further sun damage and dryness.
Heal From The Inside Out
It's not just what we do on the outside that counts, but also what's happening inside our bodies that can affect skin health. According to Bev Maya, medical herbalist and owner of Maya Natural Health in Vancouver, British Columbia, elimination organs like the liver and kidneys play a key role in skin health, if these organs are not functioning at their best or are backed up with toxins, your skin can suffer.
According to Maya, certain herbs support efficient liver function in relation to skin problems, especially dandelion root, burdock root, blue flag root, and chickweed herb, which are especially good for itchy skin. For improved kidney function, which would result in the increased flow of urine to speed removal of water-soluble toxins from the body and provide necessary minerals for healthy skin, she suggests dandelion leaf and plantain herb. Useful lymphatic drainage herbs, which support healthy immune function and removal of toxins from the skin, are cleavers and red clover, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Finally, herbs to aid digestive function are slippery elm, which Maya says decreases inflammation of mucous membranes and skin, wild yam, which is also a strong anti-inflammatory, and marshmallow root which soothes irritated membranes and skin.
Give A Hand To Humidity
Another way to combat the drying effect of your heating system is to invest in a humidifier to bring moisture into your home. Placing several small humidifiers throughout the house will have the best effect, but even one placed by your bed and turned on while you sleep will create a noticeable difference. Plants will also increase the moisture content of the air surrounding them, so go green this winter with some houseplants.
Turn Down The Heat
Lowering the temperature of your showers and baths will help your skin survive the winter with fewer traumas. It turns out that the concentrated heat of a hot bath, shower, or hot tub session can actually rupture the lipid barriers in the skin, thereby reducing its moisture content. Instead, use warm water and stay in the shower for a shorter amount of time. A soothing, lukewarm bath with oatmeal and baking soda can also help combat dry, itchy skin.
Like the song goes, winter can be "the most wonderful time of the year!" Make sure it stays that way this season by treating your skin well and protecting it from some of winter's not-so-wonderful elements.
Christine Spehar is a California-based freelance writer.