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Easing the winter assault on your skin

by Rian Ervin
Jan 11, 2012


Rian Ervin/MEDILL

Lots of hot water hastens winter's toll on dry skin.

Staying indoors, cranking up the heat or taking a long, hot shower to tolerate winter cold can be comforting. But these attempts to fight off the cold - not to mention the cold itself - can crack skin like dry leather.

“Dry, cold air with forced, heated air indoors saps the moisture out of your skin,” said Dr. Carolyn Jacob, a dermatologist for Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology.

Dry air can lead to cracked fingertips and heels, eczema patches and chapped lips, Jacob said. Extreme dryness can exaggerate conditions of eczema, she added.

Eight tips from dermatologists and dieticians can help you avoid skin damage this winter.

1. Adjust your skin care routine.

Changing skin care routines in colder months can be a preventative measure, said Jacob. “Besides being dry, the cold can cause stress to the skin, leading to further inflammation and damage,” she said. Jacob suggests switching to a moisturizing body wash such as Dove Men+ Care or CeraVe cleanser, which contains ceramides, a natural moisturizing factor for the skin.

2. Minimize frequency and heat of showers.

Take short, warm showers rather than hot ones to avoid dry skin, said Dr. Charles Zugerman, dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Medical School. “Minimize washing. Limit bathing to 5 minutes daily or every other day,” he said.

3. Apply moisturizer directly after showering.

“Apply a moisturizer within one minute of getting out of the shower,” Jacob said. This will help to trap moisture in your skin while it is still slightly damp, she explained.

4. Hydrate.

Hydration is of critical importance for winter skin care, said Jessica Crandall, registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “We tend not to be such good water drinkers when it is cold outside,” she said. Crandall suggests drinking herbal tea and hot water. “Just make sure to get 64 ounces of fluid a day, especially in drier months when heaters can dry out your skin,” she said.

5. Add more fatty acids to your diet.

Eat salmon, avocados, flaxseed oil, walnuts and almonds during the winter, Crandall recommended. Salmon helps to decrease inflammation and skin redness, she said. “Avocados have essential fatty acids which help with retaining moisture and they are a good source of B vitamins and niacin, which help with regeneration of healthy cells,” she said. Almonds, walnuts and flaxseed oil are all good sources of vitamin E, Crandall added.

6. Consider taking daily fish oil pills.

Fish oil pills are another source of omega 3 fatty acids. Jacob suggests taking gel caps of 1000mg – 2000mg daily. “They help to add back some of the necessary oils to keep your skin smooth, and are anti-inflammatory,” said Jacob.

7. Use a humidifier.

A humidifier keeps moisture in the air. “If possible, constantly have it on while at home, or at least while you are sleeping,” Zugerman said.

8. Protect yourself before going outside.

“People forget to use sunscreen in the winter,” said Neda Ashourian, a registered dermatologist. Even on cloudy days, the UV Index can be high, so it is important to wear sunscreen if you are going to be outside, she advised. If exercising outside, Zugerman recommends wearing a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher, a lip balm such as Blistex, and a moisturizer on exposed skin.