The Winter Skin You're In
Jan 10, 2011 09:25PM
● By Anonymous
No one really needs to point out the chilly temperatures, though. We just have to look at our skin…nature’s own barometer/thermometer/calendar combo. Are your legs starting to look flakier than the cereal aisle at Giant? Do your heels feel more like pumice than the stone you use to smooth them? And when you smile broadly, can you actually hear your lips crack? Welcome to wintertime on the Chesapeake.
We might call it “Maryland Seasonal Skin Disorder” but it is referred to by doctors as “xerosis,” or simply dry skin. Winter temps put an icy coating on the already uphill battle to fight the effects of aging on our skin. Keeping skin well hydrated is more of a challenge in winter. Cold weather, however, is only part of the equation. Dry skin is exacerbated by our well-heated homes. Be it forced hot air, baseboard, radiator, or a roaring fireplace, all heat dries the skin. It also dries the air. One of the best (and easiest) fixes for Seasonal Skin Disorder is to use humidifiers. You can invest in a household-wide system or simply place smaller units strategically around your home. (Your wood floors and furniture will also benefit from the added humidity.) Conditioning the air around us, however, is just a first step in dealing with skin.
For some people, dry skin can be a very serious, painful condition. Xerosis can be a factor in eczema or psoriasis. It can also be symptomatic of certain illnesses such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, Sjogren’s syndrome (an autoimmune ailment that affects as many as four million Americans), and even malnutrition. If you are even slightly concerned that what you are experiencing might not be “normal dry skin,” please consult a dermatologist. They are, after all, the skin experts, and we’re lucky to have many good dermatologists on both sides of the Bay.
If you have, thankfully, ruled out any serious complications, and are anxious to look and feel better, you do have lots of options.
What We Put In Us
The skin is the largest organ of the body. It provides protection, temperature regulation, and sensation, and it even allows secretion. Pretty amazing stuff. And just like any other organ, nutrition plays a big part in its proper function. Niacin, riboflavin, and vitamins A, B, C, D, and E are essential elements for maintaining healthy skin. In addition to recommending these nutrients, the American Skin Association suggests staying well hydrated by drinking enough water and by limiting our consumption of alcohol, a natural diuretic.
It is also important to maintain good blood circulation to the skin so all that healthy nourishment can do its job. Exercises, such as swimming, yoga, and walking, do wonders for your circulation.
What We Put On Us
The choices of moisturizers and skin creams available today seem to be endless. Potions and poultices can contain ingredients as homespun as oatmeal or as outrageous as caviar. One component, however, repeatedly makes an appearance in product descriptions: Antioxidants.
What exactly is an antioxidant? Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary defines it as: “Any substance that reduces oxidative damage (damage due to oxygen) such as that caused by free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive chemicals that attack molecules by capturing electrons and thus modifying chemical structures.” Damage due to oxygen? Modifying chemical structures? Good grief, that’s oxidation. We’re rusting!
But before you hook up with the Cowardly Lion or coat yourself in WD40, there are more pleasant ways to apply your antioxidants. Whether you shop at Nordstrom or Rite-Aid, look for products that contain vitamin A, C, and/or E, all super-rich in antioxidants. Green tea, the latest antioxidant darling, is now being used in skin creams. Also look for copper and zinc among the ingredients.
If you have a favorite summertime moisturizer, check and see if it comes in a “night cream” formula. These products are usually more oil based, a good thing in winter skin care products. But stay away from that summertime toner that contains alcohol. Use only gentle cleansers for your face and body.
For particularly stubborn dry skin, you might consider a visit to a local spa. A consultation with a gifted aesthetician can provide you with a personalized program of products and treatments…everything from moisturizing scalp massages to sea salt body scrubs. Therapeutic paraffin wax treatments for hands and feet are additional spa specialties that soften and soothe.
There are also some at-home treatments to consider. Supposedly, movie star Doris Day had an interesting skincare routine. One night a week she would coat herself with petroleum jelly, put on soft flannel pajamas and white cotton gloves and socks, and sleep in the guestroom. There’s no doubt that this extreme therapy would help dry
skin. Switching to an ointment that contained petroleum jelly plus vitamins A, D, or E would work even better. You can, of course, apply Doris’ idea on a smaller scale by just covering your hands and feet. These vitamin-rich ointments can also be applied to dry, chapped lips each night.
Nighttime isn’t the only time to be vigilant. Get in the habit of carrying a tube of moisturizer with you during the day. A quick application of an easily absorbed cream will keep hands, nails, and cuticles supple. But please consider using an effective unscented product. Lathering up in offices and restaurants in overpowering lavenders, honeysuckles, or coconuts can be a real turn-off.
Speaking of cuticles…do not be tempted to bite off those little chunks of hard skin that appear around the nails in cold weather. The same goes for the peeling equivalent on your lips. The wound you create will only be more painful and it will create a perfect spot for infection. Try an ointment-based antibiotic cream on the cuticles to soften and heal the hanging offender, and a medicated balm for the lips.
Finally, when you are out and about in cold weather, it’s a great idea to keep the skin covered. Scarves have never been more chic, so remember to wrap one around you face to cover the mouth, cheeks, and ears. And gloves are an absolute must. Buy three or four pairs (the new long styles provide added protection) and keep extras in your office, purse, coat pockets, and, of course, in the glove compartment of your car.