During winter our skin can become very dry – have you noticed your skin feeling tight or itchy recently? This is most likely due to excessive dryness. There can be several causes of dry skin in winter. We spend more time indoors in heated spaces where the air is dry and when we do venture outdoors our skin may be exposed to low temperatures or a biting wind. Winter colds and viruses dehydrate the body and skin and unless you are fortunate enough to have a water softener, the hard Essex water will also take its toll.
So, what can we do to rehydrate, nourish and bring our skin back to the healthy organ it should be? Before we look at what we put on to our skin let’s approach this holistically and look at how we can treat it from the ‘inside’.
Preventing skin from becoming too dry means ensuring we keep our body well hydrated. We tend to drink less water in winter when hot drinks like tea and coffee are more appealing, however both have a dehydrating effect on the body, so limiting the amount you take in is wise. Drinking cold water may not be to everyone’s liking in the colder winter months, so maybe try substituting it with hot water and lemon or herbal teas that do not have diuretic properties. Soup is another comforting winter food that contains lots of liquid. It is helpful to make sure you have sufficient Omega 3 and Omega 6 in your diet. A lot of research has been done into the effect of omega oils on the human body. Were you ever told as a child to “eat up your fish it will make you clever”?! We now know there is some truth in this as Omega 3 - one source of which is fish - supports healthy brain function. Omega 3 and Omega 6 support skin health too by re-enforcing its natural defence - the lipid barrier. They also play an important role in supporting the body’s ability to soothe and calm itchy and inflamed skin conditions like eczema or dermatitis. Some sources of Omega 3 are salmon, flax seeds and walnuts, and Omega 6, almonds, eggs and sunflower seeds. Omega oils are available in supplement form but as they may interfere with other medication always consult a professional nutritionist or your GP before you take omega oil supplements.
Now onto the outside! Our skin produces its own natural oil called sebum, which helps prevent moisture loss and is part of the skin’s acid mantle – it’s defence system against bacteria. The skin’s natural barrier can be compromised by washing too frequently or using harsh products so bear this in mind when choosing body washes or soap. There are two simple ways to help hydrate dry skin; firstly get rid of any excess dead skin by exfoliating and then moisturise, moisturise, moisturise!
Exfoliating removes dead skin cells. After exfoliating your skin will feel smoother, and any moisturising cream you apply will be more readily absorbed. There are many different types of exfoliator, they work either mechanically, by gentle abrasion, or by dissolving the dead skin cells and its natural ‘glue’. There are literally hundreds of exfoliators on the market, for the face, body and feet (there are even exfoliators for the lips!). You can experiment to find the one you like best. If you have a sensitive skin that is irritated by exfoliating try using a ‘Korean Sponge’ – these are very soft and gentle on the skin but effective at removing dead skin cells. As they are made from plant material they come from a renewable source and are biodegradable.
Seasonal Skin Care
Although you wouldn’t always know it, we have four seasons in Britain and our skincare routine should change to reflect this. A face wash may work well in the summer when we tend to wear less make up and enjoy the refreshing feel of water on our skin, but in winter a creamy cleanser and gentle toner or hydrolat like rose water, will be less drying. During winter use a heavier more nourishing day and night cream and if this still is not doing the trick add a hydrating oil or serum underneath your night-time product. Sometimes making the smallest and most simple change can bring about an improvement;
• If you rinse your face with water make sure you put your products on as soon as you have dried your skin to lock in any moisture. If your skin starts to feel tight it is losing water and drying out fast.
• Hands tend to get exceptionally dry in winter, so try wearing rubber gloves for chores and gloves outdoors when the temperatures start to drop.
• Apply hand cream just before you go to bed – that way you won’t be able to wash it off straight away. If you have very dry cuticles soak them in a little warm almond or apricot seed oil or treat yourself to a professional moisturising hand treatment using heated mitts.
• Excessively hot baths will dehydrate the skin so if you really like to stew, then limit yourself to that treat a couple of times a week!
Products – Mineral oil versus plant oil.
Products sold to moisturise the skin are made from mineral oil or plant oils. Some may be a combination of the two. In my experience the benefits of plant oils far outweigh those of mineral oil, and they come from a renewable source. Mineral oil is a by-product of the petrochemical industry and will generally appear on the ingredient list as petrolatum or paraffin. It works by forming an impermeable layer on the skin preventing water escaping from it – so locks in the water already present. Water loss from the skin into the atmosphere is called trans-epidermal water loss. Mineral oil is very effective at preventing this.
Heavier plant waxes like shea butter can also prevent water loss through the skin but plant oils have many other benefits which help the skin function better:
Many plant oils, for example Rosehip seed, can be absorbed into the upper layers of skin taking their beneficial properties with them. Plant oils also;
• Contain vitamins such as pro vitamin A, vitamin C and E all powerful antioxidants.
• Contain plant phytosterols with anti -inflammatory, moisturising and cell renewing properties.
• Contain omega oils which help support the structure and function of skin.
• Can be infused with potent herbal extracts – for example calendula or comfrey which helps skin heal.
• Are biodegradable and when grown sustainably benefit everyone from the grower to the planet.
I hope this has given you at least a few ideas about how to look after your skin in the colder winter months and prepare for warmer times ahead!