Give your skin a helping hand

We love the predictable nature of our seasons, including the smells, colors, and customs that accompany each transitional period. But variables in the weather also bring changes that affect our bodies, like seasonal allergies, breathing problems, and temperature-related challenges. Many of us experience one set of these changes as soon as the cool weather arrives, combined with turning up the heat in our homes —  the skin on our hands, face and feet becomes dry, flaky or raw, our lips become chapped, our eczema flares, and our perennial hangnails reappear.

When our skin feels dry, our natural inclination is to run to the drug store and peruse the skin cream and moisturizers, but there are many to choose from, and cost doesn’t necessarily equal quality or effective results. Turning to a dermatologist is a good step, since he or she can help determine if you’re experiencing typical seasonal dryness or a more serious skin condition, and prescribe the most efficient remedies. But for those of us who will self medicate, there are some key features to consider.

For example, you may use or find a moisturizer that works just fine in spring and summer. But as weather conditions change, so, too, should your skin care routine. Find an “ointment” moisturizer that’s oil-based, rather than water-based, as the oil will create a protective layer on the skin that retains more moisture than a cream or lotion. Many lotions labeled as “night creams” are oil-based, but choose your oils with care because not all oils are appropriate for the face. Instead, look for “non-clogging” oils, like avocado oil, mineral oil, primrose oil, or almond oil.

Shea oil, or butter, is controversial, because it can clog facial pores. Avoid home remedies like vegetable shortening, which just sit on the skin and are very greasy, and look for lotions containing “humectants,” a class of substances (including glycerin, sorbitol, and alpha-hydroxy acids) that attract moisture to your skin.

Healthy skin requires more than good moisturizers. It’s also important to remember to use sunscreen in the winter months, not only in the summer. Winter sun combined with snow glare can still damage your skin. Try applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen to your face and your hands (if they’re exposed) about 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply frequently if you stay outside a long time.

Another important reminder is to remain hydrated even in the winter, not as much to avoid dry skin, but for your overall health. Don’t bathe more often than necessary, and avoid strong soaps and detergents, as they will dry out your skin.

Here are several related tips for keeping your skin moist and healthier in the cooler months:

Watch what you’re wearing. The skin on your hands is thinner than on most parts of the body and has fewer oil glands. That means it’s harder to keep your hands moist, especially in cold, dry weather. This can lead to itchiness and cracking. Wear gloves when you go outside. If you need to wear wool to keep your hands warm, slip on a thin cotton glove first, to avoid any irritation the wool might cause. Also, remember that wet gloves and socks can irritate your skin and cause itching, cracking, sores or more serious skin ailments, so remember to wear cotton and change your socks and gloves regularly, especially since your feet and hands sweat and gloves and socks retain moisture.

Consider using a humidifier. Remember how our grandparents kept saucepans of water on their radiators? It was to offset the negative effects of dry heat in their homes. Central heating systems, as well as space heaters, blast hot, dry air throughout our homes and offices. Humidifiers get more moisture in the air, which helps prevent our skin from drying out. Humidifiers can be added to forced-hot-air heating systems, or are freestanding. If possible, place several small humidifiers throughout your home to help disperse moisture more evenly. And remember that wood stoves and fireplaces also dry the air and reduce the moisture in your skin.

Keep feet greased. To keep your feet soft and avoid excessive dryness, use lotions that contain petroleum jelly or glycerin. Use exfoliants to get the dead skin off periodically; that helps any moisturizers you use to sink in faster and deeper.

Avoid face “peels.” Switching gears to your face, avoid using harsh peels, masks, and alcohol-based toners or astringents, all of which can strip vital oil from your skin. Instead, find a cleansing milk or mild foaming cleanser, a toner with no alcohol, and masks that are “deeply hydrating,” rather than clay-based, which tends to draw moisture out of the face. And use them a little less often.

Avoid really hot baths and showers. No matter how good they may feel the intense heat of a hot shower or bath actually breaks down the lipid barriers in the skin, which can lead to a loss of moisture. You’re better off with just warm water, and should try staying in the water a shorter amount of time. Additionally, a lukewarm bath with oatmeal or baking soda can help relieve skin that is so dry it has become itchy, and remember to keep reapplying moisturizer.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!