Winter weather affects your skin in several ways. Dry skin is the most common result of seasonal weathering. Cold winter air lacks humidity and dries up natural oils in your skin, causing it to lose its moisture [source: Casey]. Bitter winter winds also cause chapping and windburn. This leads to rough, cracked skin that can feel tight and uncomfortable. The obvious solution might seem to be to getting in out of the cold, but during the winter months, indoor heating systems dry inside air, too. Instead of finding relief indoors, you're likely to suffer an extra dose of the drying effect.
All hope is not lost, however. You can take steps to protect your skin by making careful choices about your soap and your laundry products, keeping your skin covered up when outside, and increasing the moisture inside your home. While planning your winter skin care regimen, you should be sure to consider any existing skin conditions. Winter weather not only irritates healthy skin but also can make current skin problems worse. If you have a skin condition such as dandruff, psoriasis or eczema, be aware that winter weather might cause those conditions to flare up [source: Casey].
If you're not sure how best to protect your skin this winter or if your skin looks infected, you should consult your doctor. In the meantime, check out the next page for a few tips for keeping your skin feeling and looking healthy until the spring.
Don't Forget Your HandsWith all the colds and flu cases going around in the winter, it's a good idea to wash your hands often. But all that cleaning can cause chapping, drying and even cracking. If your hands become dry or cracked during the winter, try replacing your regular hand soap with a cleanser that's mild or soap-free. Your hands might also benefit from applying moisturizer after each wash. For an extra moisture blast, apply a thick moisturizer before you go to bed and cover your hands with cotton gloves while you sleep [source: Irwin].
Daily Winter Skin CareAlthough you can't control the weather, you can certainly take steps to keep it from ruining your day. Once you've checked the local weather report, it's time to check your cupboards and closets for the right materials.
If your skin feels itchy and dry during the winter, then check your soap. For washing your body, try switching to a soap formulated for sensitive skin. To wash your clothes, try using an allergen-free or hypoallergenic laundry detergent made without perfumes or dyes. You might also want to avoid using fabric softener sheets as some brands can leave small, itchy fibers on your clothes.
You know it's important to wear warm clothes and shoes during cold weather. However, you might not realize that how you layer your clothing can also affect your skin's health. Avoid wearing itchy fabrics like wool next to your skin. Try to wear softer, less abrasive fabrics, like cotton, closest to your body in order to let your skin breathe. Also, keep in mind that if your clothes become wet, you should change into dry clothes as soon as possible -- wet clothes can irritate your skin [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
Do you know what's in your daily beauty and grooming products? Formulas that work well with your skin most of the year might suddenly irritate those sensitive tissues in the winter. For example, many common anti-aging ingredients can cause irritation and redness, and the winter weather can worsen these side effects. If your usual warm-weather routine irritates your skin during cold weather, try switching to mild and unscented products that will be gentler on your skin [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
Despite our best efforts, we can't always prepare for a cold spell. If you're already in too deep to prevent it, read on to learn how to treat your dry winter skin.
Bath BonusesGet a little extra bang out of your bathing time with the following two tricks. First, keep the door to the bathroom closed to seal in the extra humidity. Next, slather on moisturizer soon after you hop out of the tub or shower. When you towel off, leave your skin a bit damp and then rub the moisturizer right in, locking the water in the surface cells of your skin [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
Treating Dry Skin in WinterIf you've ever had dry skin, you know the misery it can cause. These three remedies can help soothe and heal dry, cracked skin. They also work well as preventive measures along with the tips in the previous section.
When cold weather reigns outside, you might be tempted to soak in a hot bath, but this will cause irritated skin more harm than good. Hot water strips the oils from your skin, and if you have dry skin, you want to add as much moisture as possible. You don't need to eliminate bath time altogether, but to help your dry skin heal, you should keep your showers and baths short and use lukewarm instead of hot water.
You can't control the weather outside, but you do have some control over the climate inside. Dry skin needs moisture. Using a humidifier in your home replaces the indoor moisture lost to your heating system. Not only will your skin appreciate the moisture, but your sinuses will thank you, too.
To trap as much moisture in your skin as possible, you should apply moisturizer regularly. Moisturizers are available as oils, creams and lotions. The choice you make largely depends on the dryness of your skin and your tolerance for the greasy feel of the moisturizer. Oils are greasy and slippery, but they seal in moisture well. Creams aren't as greasy, disappearing when you rub them in, and they also trap moisture well. Lotions tend to add the least moisture, but they absorb quickly so they don't feel so greasy. However, many lotions contain alcohol, which helps quicken their absorption. Alcohol causes dryness as well, so you should try to avoid lotions that include it [source: University of Iowa Health Care].
Now that you know how to treat dry skin, what should you do about other winter hazards, like windburn? Keep reading to find out.
Plan AheadDo you have a big ski trip or another outdoor adventure planned? All that time outdoors requires extra care and planning for your skin. Start working on your windburn prevention the week before you leave. Discontinue use of any skin care products that strip or heavily exfoliate your skin, like alpha-hydroxy and salicylic acids or retinoids. Also, save your spa trips for later. You don't want to do any kind of dermabrasion or peels right before you spend a lot of time outside in the winter cold [source: Baumann].
Protecting Against WindburnEver spend time out in a stiff winter wind and realize that your skin feels angry and sore? Cold winter
wind can cause an unpleasant skin condition known as windburn. When the wind repeatedly chafes your skin, the friction from the wind acts like sandpaper. As with sunburn, windburn can leave your skin red, raw and blistered. A severe windburn might even peel like a sunburn.
Your best line of defense against windburn is to prevent it all together. Try these three windburn prevention tricks:
- Use moisturizer -- Use a thick, heavy cream to serve as a barrier against the wind and to trap as much moisture in your skin as possible.
- Apply petroleum jelly -- Yes, it's goopy and gooey, but petroleum jelly makes an excellent windshield. Petroleum jelly not only prevents the wind from touching your skin but also acts as a strong moisturizer [source: Baumann].
- Bundle up -- Although people often wear several layers during cold months, it's important to remember your face is extremely susceptible to windburn. It might make you feel like a bank robber, but a ski mask will help keep the wind off your face. Wearing a hat and a scarf also protects your head, neck and face. Don't forget to keep your sensitive ears covered. Biting wind and cold can cause painful infections in unprotected ears.
Now that you know how to deal with the winter air and winter winds, read on to learn how to deal with the winter sun.
High Altitude Sun RiskDid you know that the strength of the sun's UV rays increases as the elevation increases? If you live or vacation in high altitudes, you need to be especially careful about using sunblock. UV rays are stronger at higher altitudes, and during the winter, you get extra exposure because UV rays reflect, or bounce, off the snow back at you [source: Euwer]. If you're going to spend time in high altitudes, plan on wearing a stronger sunblock than you normally use.
Daily Winter Sun ProtectionSun protection is just as important during the winter as it is during the warmer months. It might feel cold outside, but that doesn't have anything to do with the strength of the sun's ultraviolet, or UV, rays. Although people tend to associate heat with sunburn, that's a myth. No matter what the temperature is outside, you can get sunburn. Make sure you educate yourself on a few preventive measures you can take.
Always wear sunblock. You should wear sunblock of at least SPF 15 or higher even in the winter. You'll need to reapply the sunblock periodically because the winter weather will dry it out and strip it from your skin.
Don't forget your lips. Too much sun exposure can lead to dry, cracked lips and, over time, can cause skin cancer. Like sunblock for the rest of your skin, your lip balm should be SPF 15 or higher. You'll need to reapply lip balm often during the day [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
Avoiding sunburn means avoiding the sun, and that means covering up. Wear a hat with a wide brim that shades your entire head, including your ears and neck. Also, don't forget to wear shades that include UV protection and cover your sensitive eye area [source: WebMD]. And whether it's winter or summer, pay attention to the UV index scale. If UV levels are high, very high or extreme, it helps to minimize the amount of time you spend in sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The best way to tell if your sun exposure is too high is to look at your shadow -- if it's shorter than you, as it usually is during the midday, seek out shade [source: Environmental Protection Agency].
From sunburn and windburn prevention to dry skin, winter poses a number of unique skin care challenges. With a little thought and planning, you can enjoy your winter escapades without worrying about Jack Frost ruining your fun.