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Cold Weather Skin Care 101

Why does your skin dry out in the winter?

Winter air has less humidity, and the heating unit that keeps your home and office comfortable also dries the air. But your skin thrives on moisture. For most of us, letting nature take its course during cold weather will lead to chapped lips, cracked hands, rough patches, itchiness and flakiness.

Fortunately, avoiding winter skin perils doesn’t take much effort.

Shower up

You know that long, hot shower that feels so good on a chilly morning? It actually washes away the oils that keep skin protected from the elements, so those few minutes of luxuriating in steaming hot water may be to blame for your itchy, dry arms and legs. Turn the water down from scorching to warm, limit shower time to five or ten minutes and keep the door closed to keep the humidity in.

Use gentle cleansers. Deodorant or sweet-smelling soaps and bath gels contain alcohol, which can speed evaporation.

When you get out of the shower, use your towel to pat yourself dry, but don’t rub! Rubbing will remove that much needed moisture that you want to lock in, and can irritate dry skin.

Apply moisturizer immediately, and use an ointment or cream. Ointments contain 80% oil, and creams contain 50% while lotions contain more water than oil. That’s why a cream doesn’t spread as smoothly over dry skin, but glides over damp skin. When you put cream or ointment on damp skin, it creates a layer of oil that locks in moisture. The water in lotion evaporates and could dry your skin even more.

Face time

Clean your face with a gentle, creamy cleanser, using lukewarm — not hot! — water. Avoid overly abrasive exfoliating products — those strip the outer layer of your skin during cold months when it is already weakened — but do use a gentle exfoliator to get rid of dead skin cells.

Use a moisturizer as soon as you get out of the shower or wash your face, while your skin is still damp, to lock in that much needed moisture.

Men with beards: You do need to wash your beard, but not too often: daily shampooing will dry the skin under your beard. Avoid using a deodorant soap to wash your beard because it can dry the skin underneath even faster, which could lead to flaking. Consider beard oil, which will soothe your skin as well as soften the hair on your face.

Use sunscreen. Even though you can’t feel its warmth, the sun still shines down on you in winter. Maybe you won’t sunburn, but those rays do damage. If you’ll be outside for a while, apply sunscreen 30 minutes before, and reapply after a few hours. And always make sure to look out for the kids before they bound out the door to enjoy a snow day.

Use lip balm, preferably with sunblock, to avoid chapped lips and sun damage.

Hand off

Keep some hand cream at your office as well as at home. Any time you wash your hands, follow up with cream to moisturize the thin skin on your hands.

Your cuticles are also prone to drying out, so if needed, use cuticle cream periodically throughout the day.

If dryness on your hands is severe, give yourself a simple overnight treatment. Slather on petroleum jelly or hydrating cream and put on a pair of cotton gloves (available at any drugstore). 

The extra mile

When you go outside, wear gloves, and pull a scarf around your face. Don’t expose your skin to bone-chilling cold and wind.

Use a humidifier in your home and office to keep moisture in the air.

If a wool sweater feels scratchy when you wear it, it’s irritating your skin. Either wear a protective layer of clothing underneath it or avoid clothes made of rough-feeling material.

When itchy, don’t scratch! If your skin is so dry that it starts to feel prickly, you will find only temporary relief by scratching, and will likely irritate it more. Grab that moisturizer and apply it to the itchy skin, instead.

Love to sit close to a fireplace or space heater to warm up when you come in from the cold? It may warm you up quickly, but it is drying your skin out too. Keep your distance, and grab a hot tea or another warm drink instead.

Nancy Henderson

Nancy Henderson, a writer and editor originally from New York, moved to Nashville more than 25 years ago and considers herself more Tennessean than Yankee these days. She has written about health care and wellness for a variety of publications.

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Nancy Henderson, a writer and editor originally from New York, moved to Nashville more than 25 years ago and considers herself more Tennessean than Yankee these days. She has written about health care and wellness for a variety of publications.

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WellTuned provides inspiration and practical advice for healthy living.
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