Skin so dry that it looks like a dried riverbed at high noon? Welcome to winter. Although these cold temperatures bring relief from many allergies, risk of heat stroke and clammy skin, they also reduce the amount of moisture in the air. For many, this causes a season of misery as dry skin chafes, splits, cracks, and just hurts.
Sure, everyone knows what skin is. It’s – skin. It covers everything but our eyeballs and nails. A few facts about this most basic part of us; it
- is an organ. Yes, an organ; a self-contained organism that plays a vital function.
- is one of the body’s heaviest and largest organs.
- on average, it covers between 16 and 22 square feet
- making up about one seventh of the body’s weight, it generally weighs between 7.5 and 22 pounds
- protects the body from the elements, germs, and harmful substances
- The oil it produces creates a shield to block out
- plays a role in regulating body temperature
- sweat produced from its glands help cool the body
- is how we feel heat, cold, pressure, pain, itchiness
- stores water, fat and metabolism products
- is where vitamin D is produced with the help of sunlight
- produces hormones
Yes, skin is busy. And you thought it was just lying there. Such a vital organ requires care all year round. Winter has its own challenges.
Why is winter so hard on skin? Ironically, it is because of the minimal presence of humidity, the bane of Mid-Atlantic summers. Humidity defines the amount of water vapor (moisture) in the air. While it’s possible to have dry skin in summer and oily skin in winter, generally skin reflects the air surrounding it. When moisture content in the air is low, as in winter, skin moisture tends to evaporate faster. The remedy is to help the body to hold onto what it produces.
To restore moisture to the skin, many concoctions have been stirred up over the centuries. Virtual and brick store shelves are filled with bottles, jars and tubes offering simple to technologic marvels. But basically, a good moisturizer:
humectants (ceramides, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, lecithin) draw moisture to the skin
oils (including petroleum, lanolin, and mineral oil) keep the moisture from evaporating
by trapping moisture, emollients (moisturizers) fill the micro-spaces between skin cells, making the skin more pliant and soft
What you choose to accomplish these goals with depends on skin type, age, health, and environment. For example, sensitive skin can become irritated by ingredients commonly used to firm/tighten skin such as alcohol, fragrance, retinoids, or alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA).
A study in Pediatric Dermatology found that sunflower seed oil improves skin hydration by spurring the production of ceramides and cholesterol, two key components of healthy skin cells.
Herbs and flowers have been used through the centuries in every corner of the world to moisturize, protect, and treat. There is a wealth of information and recipes for creating personalized winter skin defenders. Much of what grows in a Mid-Atlantic garden or farm can be used.
Ever wonder what the difference is between lotions, creams, butters and balms? Basically:
|LOTION||CREAM||BALM/ OINTMENT /SALVE||BUTTER|
|30/80 oil to water content
thin enough to be dispensed by pump or tube
|50/50 oil to water content
thick enough to scoop from a jar or tub
|80/20 oil to water content||100% oil|
|All, including the scalp||Body
Too heavy for oily skin and the face
|Best option for oily skin, providing moisture without clogging pores||Terms are used interchangeably for the most part. Traditionally used for more than moisturizing – managing skin conditions, wounds, and injuries.
Beeswax may be included for texture and its beneficial properties.
|Contains the meat of the fruit or nut. May feel greasy when first applied but only until the oils are absorbed.|
The take-away from what I’ve researched is to start with the oil-water ratio best for your skin, then play with combinations of oils, herbs, and scents.
Sweet AlmondEssential oils
Rose (flower) water
*Hydrosols are waters into which flowers/herbs are distilled. More on that later.
Start with raw plants or order from Amazon or other reliable sources. Mix, steam, stir, store, and use. Or give.
Don’t Forget to Feed Your Skin
What we eat plays a role in keeping skin happy all year round. Antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids may sound intimidating or too trendy to touch but these can be found in nuts, seeds (like flaxseed), berries, fruits, vegetables, fish, herbs and flowers. If you look Prevention’s list of 25 top foods for skin and the slideshow of foods for supple skin from Mayo Clinic, you’ll find basic foods which may already be a part of your eating lifestyle.
Having skin that produces excess oil could be seen as a good thing when the air is doing its best to suck every ounce of moisture out of said skin. But there is a balance. Of course. Even with the dry air, oily skin can produce too much oil, causing pores to clog and acne to form. For winter, LiveStrong recommends
- twice-daily washing,
- using a light moisturizer (lotion),
- use of a sunscreen daily since sunburn can increase the occurrence of skin drying, and
- use of salicylic acid instead of benzoyl peroxide for treating acne since it is not as drying.
CAVEATS – ALLERGY ALERT
Allergies have to be considered whenever exploring new plants and foods. Proceed cautiously when trying new oils or herbs, inside and out. The irony can be that something used to calm the skin may be the trigger for an allergic reaction.
If it’s been years since you’ve had a scratch test, things may’ve changed. This past May, I learned that I’d developed a whole new crop of food allergies in the 16 years since my first scratch test. So, don’t dismiss itches and especially do not dismiss that funny tightening feeling in the throat when eating something you’ve never had a problem with before. See your allergist! (OK, I’m down from my soapbox now)
MORE WAYS TO CARE FOR YOUR SKIN THROUGH THE WINTER
- Use a humidifier to counter the work of the furnace, wood stove, heater. Leaving off the bathroom fan when showering is a low-cost way to add moisture to the air. Well, at least a little.
- Hydrate by drinking water as you should – 6 to 9 glasses daily. Some of that water can be in the form of a nice warming cup of herbal tea. Minimize sweeteners since they tend to contribute to dehydration.
- When outdoors, cover as much skin as possible to reduce the drying effect of the air
- Keep showers short (argh!) and water temperature lukewarm (sigh) doctors say because hot water speeds the loss of the body’s oils.
- Apply moisturizer to damp skin as soon after bathing/showering as possible. This gives your emollient of choice to trap that extra water before it can evaporate.
- Steam facial provides a 2-for-1 deal for skin and sinuses. Low humidity can dry sinuses, making it easier for bacteria to invade the body. Steam can alleviate sinus pressure by thinning mucous, allowing it to drain more readily. The steam can open pores to the benefits of lavender or other aromatics added to the bath, says Prevention. But those with sensitive, damaged, very dry skin or who are prone to broken capillaries are cautioned – the herbal steam treatment may cause irritation.
- Exfoliate regularly to keep dead skin cells from clogging pores and turning your moisturizing regimen into a recipe for acne. Explore body scrubs that combine salts and essential oils like this English rose scrub from Stylecaster.
Enjoying the unique beauty that winter brings can be made easier when your skin is adequately dressed.
What Is Skin? NIH.GOV
What’s the Difference Between An Ointment, A Cream And A Lotion? Michel McDonald, M.D. Vanderbilt University Medical Center. February 20, 2009
Moisturizers: Options for softer skin. Mayo Clinic. October 13, 2016
9 Ways to Banish Dry Skin. Harvard Health. December 8, 2015
Effects of Low Humidity on Health. January 13, 2014. Mercola.com
How to Take Care of Oily Skin in the Winter. LiveStrong.com. Jan 15, 2014