It is that time of the year when your skin begins to exhibit warning signs that it is in dire need of a little more TLC. Dried-out skin, cracked heels and palms, chapped lips... If you’re not prepared, the changes to your skin can make you go through an uneasy winter. But the good news is that with a bit of care, you can take protect your skin from the ill-effects of winter and leave it supple and radiant. And we are talking not just about the UAE winter. Those of you who may be travelling to the West during this time could also benefit from keeping in mind a few simple pointers on skin health care.
A reason dry skin becomes increasingly reactive to skin irritants is because the epidermis becomes more fragile and permeable during winter due to a disruption in the normal skin barrier functions. This disturbs THE structural as well as physiological integrity of skin and makes it more prone to several skin-health issues.
But before we proceed, let’s get an overview of the common winter-specific skin issues.
Winter xerosis: This is the term used for an excessively dry skin caused by cold weather. Though, entire body skin can suffer, exposed areas like scalp, face, lips and hands show more intense changes, making these areas problematic for the sufferer.
Winter itch: As the name suggests, it occurs during winter when the skin dries out so much that it becomes itchy and uncomfortable, resulting in inflamed red rashes in the form of scaly skin plaques or sore bumpy lesions. These symptoms are similar to eczema, but while eczema is usually a long-term condition, Winter itch is purely a temporary effect of cold weather. It usually goes away quickly with mild treatments. Regular use of oil-based moisturisers usually proves effective. However, for more active skin rashes, use of mild steroid creams for a short period usually helps.
Chapped lips: Unsightly, dry, cracked and inflamed chapped lips are one of the worst things to face during winter. Lips have a thin layer of skin which is inherently deprived of innate sebaceous (oil) glands which makes them more vulnerable to dry out fast in the winter. If not taken care in time, the cracks in the lips can become painful, swollen and sometimes cause bleeding. Use lip balms rich in hydrating agents like petroleum jelly and glycerin. However, in more severely inflamed cases, consult your dermatologist.
Flaky face: Most commonly seen in sensitive-skin-individuals whose skin usually overreacts to the dry cold air in winter, this can leave them with red rosy (inflamed) nose, ears and cheeks. This later creates skin dryness, which in severe cases can result in formation of thick scales and plaques on top of the inflamed skin surface. Sometimes skin can feel sore and uncomfortable. Frequent use of oil-rich moisturisers are usually effective. Avoid harsh facial cleansers with astringents, strong soap wash, clay masks and facial scrubs. Don’t forget to protect your eyelids and skin around your eyes with frequent use of moisturisers.
Scaly scalp syndrome: This occurs mainly because of lack of moisture in the air and taking hot showers. In certain cases, scalp can be seen inflamed and also be severely itchy. Use of mild steroidal scalp lotions together with shampoos containing tar or salicylic acid usually provide significant relief. Avoid hot showers.
Cracked hands: People with frequent hand washing habits using harsh soaps are more likely to suffer from intense hand dryness. In more severe cases, these dry hands, particularly the palms, can develop deep skin cracks and bleed. Frequent applications of thick emollients help. Use of soft cotton gloves can offer an additional help towards recovery.
Use of poor quality hand sanitizers can worsen the condition. Those with pre-existing skin or systemic allergies/sensitivities should take extra care. For example, those with atopic dermatitis, bronchial asthma, allergic rhinitis (frequent sneezing from dust, fragrances or temperature variations) make the majority of these sufferers. The complaints of dry cracked hands in these cases can be a result of either an irritant or allergic contact dermatitis to the chemicals in the hand sanitisers.
Then there are certain skin conditions that have been found to worsen during winter. Some of the common ones are atopic, seborrhoeic and allergic dermatitis, psoriasis, cold urticaria, rosacea and acne.
Winter skincare for adults
Moisturise more: You may have found a moisturiser that works just fine in spring and summer. But as the weather changes, so, too, should your skincare routine. Find an “ointment” moisturiser that’s oil-based, rather than water-based, as the oil creates a protective layer on the skin that retains more moisture than a cream or lotion. But choose oils that are “nonclogging” such as avocado, primrose or almond oils.
Slather on the sunscreen: No, sunscreen isn’t just for summertime. Winter sun too can 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 or getting indulged into indoor/outdoor water sports, especially in the regions with milder winter.
Give your hands a hand: The skin on your hands is naturally deprived of the 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 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.
Grease up your feet: As your feet (mainly the soles) don’t have sebaceous (oil) glands as such, the feet need stronger greasy emollients. Try finding lotions that contain petroleum jelly or glycerin instead. And exfoliate periodically; it helps better absorption of moisturisers.
Pace the peels: Avoid using harsh peels, masks, and alcohol-based toners or astringents on your uncomfortably dry facial skin. 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.
Ban superhot baths: 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 lukewarm water, and staying in the water a shorter amount of time.
Cleanse your skin, but don’t overdo it: Too much cleansing removes the skin’s natural moisturisers. It is enough to wash your face, hands, feet, and between the folds of your skin once a day. While you can rinse your trunk, arms, and legs daily, it is not necessary to use soap or cleanser on these areas every day. However, remember to maintain Covid regulations and hygiene.
Avoid winter tanning: Tanning beds and artificial sunlamps are always damaging to the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer. If you want to keep your summer glow, use self-tanners along with extra moisturiser, as self-tanners can also dry out the skin.
Take vitamin D supplements: It’ll ensure that you get the recommended amounts of vitamin D all year round.
Avoid skin irritants: Follow this if you have persistent skin issues like eczema. Winter skin is extremely fragile, and exposure to allergens can trigger your symptoms. Many people are allergic to wool but cannot resist the temptation to wear their winter knits. Always choose winter wear that is made from high-grade soft wool. If possible, go for winter wear made from cotton.
Take care of your diet: Consume a lot of seasonal fruits and veggies. Berries are exceptional sources of vitamins and antioxidants that your skin needs to stay healthy during the cold weather. Strawberries, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, or cherries – pick anything you love. Also, if you think that you are missing out on the hydration part (limited water intake), you can cover that up with fruits, veggies, and other food items such as soups, salads, juices, and milk. In this way, your body will get the nutrients to keep the skin healthy.
Exercise: Exercise will pump up your heart rate, which in turn, pumps more blood to your organs and skin. During winter, the oil and sweat glands in your body and the blood vessels constrict a bit. This makes it hard for your skin to keep itself healthy and glowing naturally, and that’s why it needs your help.
Seek a specialist: A specialist can analyze your skin type, troubleshoot your current skin care regimen, and give you advice on the skin care products you should be using. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck buying high-end products. Inexpensive products work just as good as high-end ones, if selected properly.