Winter can be "the most wonderful time of the year" as we gather with loved ones and celebrate the holidays, but for many, the changing of the seasons means dry, cracked skin. Luckily, there are some simple tips to keep your skin healthy in the harsh winter months. The weather outside might be frightful, but these simple tips can keep your skin delightful.
Tip 1: Keep Your Skin Out of Hot Water
A former resident of Minnesota, I can attest that there is nothing like a nice hot bath after trudging home through the snow after a long day. Unfortunately, your skin will be both literally and figuratively "in hot water" if you spend too long in the bath or shower. Hot water ironically draws moisture out of your skin. This is because it comprises its lipid bilayer. Limit your shower time to 5 to 10 minutes and use tepid water in the wintertime and a gentle cleanser. After your shower, pat-dry the skin rather than rubbing it harshly, then apply your favorite moisturizer head-to-toe to lock in the moisture.
Tip 2: Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize
Just like sunscreen, moisturizers are most effective when used repeatedly throughout the day. There are so many options at the supermarket and cosmetic counter that selecting a product can seem daunting. For my patients, especially those with sensitive skin, I recommend products that are fragrance-free. In the winter, oil-based ointments are superior to water-based lotions and creams. Look for products containing "ceramides" or "humectants". Ceramides are a natural component of the skin's lipid bilayer that makes the skin "waterproof," locking in moisture. Humectants such as alpha-hydroxyacids and glycerine draw moisture to the skin. The best product is the one you will actually use, so find a brand you like and make moisturizing part of your routine.
Tip 3: Invest in a Humidifier
Less moisture is retained by cold air than by warm air. This is why the cold winter months are dry whereas the warm summer months are muggy. As the barometer falls and we crank up the heat indoors, the humidity levels in our homes plummet. Investing in a humidifier can help you avert dry, cracked skin in the wintertime. Ideally the humidity levels in your home should be between 30 to 50 percent. Hygrometers are devices that can be bought at a hardware store to measure humidity levels. Make sure the humidity levels don't exceed 50 percent, as this may promote the growth of mold and bacteria in your home, aggravating conditions such as asthma and allergies.
Tip 4: What Not to Wear
Breathable fabrics made of materials such as cotton are best for those with sensitive skin. Fabrics such as wool can be itchy and irritate the skin. This doesn't mean you have to ditch your favorite wool sweaters this winter. Just invest in a light cotton shirt to wear underneath.
Tips 5: Handling Your Hands with Care
Our hands are one of the areas most susceptible to forming dry, cracked skin in winter. As the flu and other bugs circulate through offices and schools, more frequent hand-washing and the use of harsh antibacterial soaps and hand-sanitizers dry out our skin, coupled with decreased humidity and exposure to the elements. Remember your gloves when venturing outdoors and keep moisturizer handy when you are on the go, as well as next to your sink at home. Be sure after cleaning your hands with a gentle soap to use your favorite moisturizer to seal in moisture.
I hope these simple skincare tips help to keep your skin soft and supple throughout the harsh winter months. For those whose dry, cracked skin does not improve with over-the-counter products, prescription medications are available to heal inflamed and irritated skin. Visit with a board-certified dermatologist to find out more.