Winter Cold Plays Hard on Skin

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The winter months in Canada can be particularly harsh on the skin, resulting in dryness, chapping, or redness. But with a few simple steps, you can ensure your skin remains healthy and beautiful throughout the season.

Step 1: Stay Hydrated

Keeping your skin hydrated is essential for preventing dryness and cracking. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and ensure that you supplement that with plenty of other fluids like herbal teas, freshly-pressed juices, and broths. Make sure to avoid sugary drinks like sodas, which can be dehydrating.

The fact are, cold winter weather can wreak havoc on our bodies. Due to the drop in temperature and lack of humidity, our skin can have a difficult time retaining moisture, leading to itchy, dry skin and cracked lips. A board-certified dermatologist shares essential tips to help keep your skin moisturized and healthy during the colder months.

“Keeping our hands, feet and face protected from the cold weather is an essential part of preventing dry skin as well as stopping it from worsening,” said Elizabeth Kiracofe, MD, FAAD, who is in private practice in Chicago. “We can’t hibernate inside all winter, so when you’re out and about, make sure that as little skin as possible is exposed to the elements and you protect your lips by wearing lip balm.”

The weather changes year-round so it’s important to make sure your skin care routine fits with the season. What works well in the summer might not work as well when the humidity drops. In addition to causing dry, itchy skin, dry, cold air can make fine lines and wrinkles more noticeable.

“You don’t need to change every product you use, but you should switch to heavier creams when it’s cold,” said Dr. Kiracofe. “I recommend that my patients cut back on products that have alpha hydroxy acid or beta hydroxy acid, which can reduce the signs of aging by smoothing fine lines and wrinkles. In the winter months, these products can be irritating for the skin even when combined with moisturizing creams.”

When the weather gets colder, the humidity drops outside and inside our homes. Turning up the furnace or lighting the fireplace creates dry heat and takes moisture out of the air, causing your skin to become dry and irritated. Dr. Kiracofe recommends that people bundle up by wearing warmer clothes and blankets when indoors rather than increasing the heat or using a fireplace. Adding moisture to the air also can prevent your skin from getting rough and cracked.

“Adequate sleep is such an essential component to maintaining healthy skin, and that uninterrupted time in the night is the perfect opportunity for the skin to recover,” said Dr. Kiracofe. “This is why, in winter, I recommend patients consider adding a filtered, cool-mist humidifier in their bedrooms. Not only can this help treat dryness, but it can be an effective tool for prevention. You don’t need to wait until you get irritated or cracked skin to make an improvement to your environment.”

If your skin does become very dry or raw, clothes and laundry detergent can be irritating. Consider wearing soft fiber fabrics that won’t cause irritation, such as cotton or silk, and using a laundry detergent labeled “fragrance free.”

There are many ways to relieve dry skin, but keeping it hydrated is essential. Dr. Kiracofe and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend the following tips:

Apply moisturizer immediately after washing, which traps existing moisture in your skin.

Use an ointment or cream because they are more effective and less irritating than lotions.

Use warm water instead of hot water during baths and showers to prevent dry skin from worsening.

Use only gentle, fragrance-free skin care products. Some skin care products, such as antibacterial, deodorant, or scented soaps, are too harsh for dry, sensitive skin.

If at-home treatments don’t work, see a board-certified dermatologist.

“Often, a prescription is needed to help treat the inflammation or dryness that’s gotten out of control,” said Dr. Kiracofe. “That’s why I always tell patients you don’t have to be in pain or itching before you come see me. If you’re noticing your skin is changing, and you can’t improve its condition on your own, come in. Don’t wait until your knuckles are bleeding or your lips are cracked. Board-certified dermatologists can give you recommendations to hydrate and prevent dry skin and prescribe a medication if you need it.”

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