Body Care

Tips for Fighting Dry Skin in Winter



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Healthy skin integrity is our first line of defense against bacteria, infections, and related problems; therefore, anything we can do to maintain our protective barrier, our skin, will benefit us now and in years to follow. Aside from the common skin irritations we experience in a lifetime, winter's cold, harsh temperatures, accompanied by our choice to live indoors where humidity may be lacking, increase our risk for additional skin ailments, the most common being, "dry skin." Certain health conditions, certain medications, the aging process, exposure to harsh chemicals, accidental trauma to the skin during our daily activities, all are factors with the potential to cause dry skin in the first place.

Dry skin, be it just plain dry and crying out for moisture, or whether it is flaky, abrased, chapped/chafed, inflamed, perhaps with open painful cracks that ooze, and/or a persistent sensation of itchiness that, when repeatedly scratched, causes the appearance of a minute blister-like rash, for example, on the palmar surfaces of the handsthese represent signs and symptoms that require treatment in order to preserve the intactness of our skin.

Prevention of the factors that cause dry skin, particularly during the winter, include, but are not limited to the following: inadequate protection (not wearing hat, mitts, scarf, long enough coat, boots) of bare skin, possibly causing trauma to, for example, the forehand when you are scraping the windshield of your car or shoveling snow, or having to walk a long distance wearing only a short winter coat while your legs are exposed to the cold biting wind wearing clothing or boots (ill-fitting boots, particularly those that constrict the feet and toes) that are still damp from previous outings in the cold and/or snow, perhaps even not wearing boots, opting instead to wear your fashionable runners or some other shoes.

Remember, that cold temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict (become smaller, narrower), which in turn reduces the circulation to places furthest from the heart (toes, feet, legs, hands, arms, nose, ears). The warm temperature of your bloodstream then is reduced, thus making worse the chilling of your extremities. Coming indoors, then, you warm up, but you lose moisture from your skin in the warm,...and dry environment which is often heated electrically, with gas, oil, or perhaps, a wood stoveall increasing the moisture loss from your skin.

So now, let's move on to these "tips" for "fighting dry skin in winter."

Baths and Showers:
Long and frequent baths and showers, as much as you may enjoy them, as well as water that is too warm, causes your skin to lose whatever oil and natural moisture is already present in the skin; the same also causes increased moisture loss from the skin through evaporation. So, besides reducing moisture loss, you can save water, electricity, and time, if you need another reason to reduce your time in the bath/shower. Opt for gentle cleansers if you must use a cleanser. Bath bubbles and scented soaps, although really enjoyable to use and soak in, the residue from them can be irritating to the skin, particularly over the long term; therefore, if you do use these products, try to remember to rinse off any soap residue. Additionally, washcloths and scrubbing pads have their own abrasive effect, particularly on fragile or thin skin layers. After the bath, preferably right after you dry off with a towel, apply a moisturizing creamone without alcohol or ingredients that contribute to dryingto your skin to seal in the moisture that is still in your skin.

Outdoor winter gear:
Protect your skin from exposure to cold, moisture and wind. Wear that hat/toque, mitts/gloves, scarf, leggings, warmer moisture absorbent socks, and boots that were manufactured specifically for winter wear. And...when your "winter gear" is damp or wet, when you do come indoors for awhile, dry those damp things out properly, if you can before going outdoors again, before you put them back on. Don't forget that boots, if they have "liners" or "insoles," need to be removed and dried also (air dry or on a boot rack). Often, if you are a frequent outdoorsy-type individual, or even if your not, having more than one piece of winter apparel is very useful. It's really difficult, I know, to get students, whether they are children, teenagers, or in college or university, to wear boots and carry shoes, runners, sandals in a bag to put on at school; I doubt that challenge will ever disappearbut go ahead and do the parental thing or the friend "thing" and encourage and show, by example, another method to protect your skin and body from the harmful effects of the winter cold, snow, and wind.

General skincare:
There are many times during a day that one's hands are exposed to water, heat and cold, or chemicals. The person who handwashes laundry items, dishes three times a day, cleans house, etc. These daily activities also cause moisture loss and irritation to the skin on your hands. My recommendation, if one can afford it, is to use gentle hand cleansers (bathroom and kitchen, laundry sinks), and to place and use a bottle or tube of skin moisturizer at those locations, applying the moisturizer soon after finishing the dishes, the handwashing, the cleaning, or whatever. Even better, would be to use gloves-yeah, I don't like wearing the darn things eitherto protect your hands more often from the temperature changes in, and from the water itself. I had better add, as well, that applying a chapstick or lip balm to the lips will help prevent sore and chapped lips. Other body areas that may need increased attention with skin moisturizer, areas that we don't always consider, are the feet, knees, elbows, face. When you do apply a moisturizing cream/lotion, I would recommend you apply it evenly, slowly, massaging the cream/lotion gently into the skin.

*There are many varieties of moisturizers and skin cleansers available commercially. I will not promote any in particular, but I would encourage the reader to educate oneself by reading the ingredients listed on the product and requesting information, if needed, before purchasing. Not all skincare products are equal. I recall my surprise and disappointment when I first discovered, a long time ago now, that my favourite skin lotion contained a form of isopropyl alcohol which dries the skin. Since that time, I read labels...and, on more than just skincare products.

For any skin changes that occur which concern you, please do go to a health professional for assessment and possible treatment or advice. In the meantime, however, do what you can to care for and maintain your healthy skin; it has to protect you for your lifetime!

More about this author: Wendy Loft

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