Tips for Caring for Winter Skin

Oh, my goodness. Is anyone else really struggling with dry, itchy, sensitive skin right now? I’ve never struggled with dry skin, but I guess since we are spending so much more time indoors due to COVID, the heat in the house really zaps your skin of it’s natural moisture.

So, I went to work gathering up supplies and doing the research on the best products to help skin retain its moisture during the winter. My main problem is I developed dry, scaling, itchy patches under my eyes and on my eyelids.  My eyes were dry which meant they itched and burned. I headed to CVS and loaded into my cart a small Vick’s humidifier for next to my bed, Aquaphor advanced treatment ointment, and Flonase. I started this regimen, along with eye drops, on Sunday and I noticed an improvement by the next morning. Because I saw such quick results, this will be my routine for the foreseeable future.

Then, I did some reading and found this helpful article from Harvard Women’s Health Watch on “What To Do About Dry Skin in Winter.” I’ll hit the highlights –

Dry skin occurs when skin doesn’t retain sufficient moisture — for example, because of frequent bathing, use of harsh soaps, aging, or certain medical conditions. Wintertime poses a special problem because the humidity is low both outdoors and indoors, and the water content of the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) tends to reflect the level of humidity around it. 

Think of the epidermal skin cells as an arrangement of roof shingles held together by a lipid-rich “glue” that keeps the skin cells flat, smooth, and in place. Water loss accelerates when the glue is loosened by sun damage, over-cleansing, scrubbing, or underlying medical conditions — or by winter’s low humidity and the drying effects of indoor heat. The result is roughness, flaking, itching, cracking, and sometimes a burning sensation.

Skin moisturizers, which rehydrate the epidermis and seal in the moisture, are the first step in combating dry skin. They contain three main types of ingredients.  Look for these on the label – humectants, which help attract moisture, include ceramides, glycerin, sorbitol, hyaluronic acid, and lecithin. Another set of ingredients — for example, petrolatum (petroleum jelly), silicone, lanolin, and mineral oil — help seal that moisture within the skin. Emollients, such as linoleic, linolenic, and lauric acids, smooth skin by filling in the spaces between skin cells.

In general, the thicker and greasier a moisturizer, the more effective it will be. Some of the most effective (and least expensive) are petroleum jelly and moisturizing oils (such as mineral oil), which prevent water loss without clogging pores. Because they contain no water, they’re best used while the skin is still damp from bathing, to seal in the moisture. Other moisturizers contain water as well as oil, in varying proportions. These are less greasy and may be more cosmetically appealing than petroleum jelly or oils.

What you can do –

Here are some ways to combat dry skin that are effective if practiced consistently:

  • Use a humidifier in the winter. Set it to around 60%, a level that should be sufficient to replenish the top layer of the epidermis.
  • Limit yourself to one 5- to 10-minute bath or shower daily. If you bathe more than that, you may strip away much of the skin’s oily layer and cause it to lose moisture.
  • Use lukewarm water rather than hot water, which can wash away natural oils.
  • Minimize your use of soaps; if necessary, choose moisturizing preparations such as Dove, Olay, and Basis, or consider soap-free cleansers like Cetaphil, Oilatum-AD, and Aquanil.
  • Steer clear of deodorant soaps, perfumed soaps, and alcohol products, which can strip away natural oils.
  • Bath oils can be helpful, but use them with caution: they can make the tub slippery.
  • To reduce the risk of trauma to the skin, avoid bath sponges, scrub brushes, and washcloths. If you don’t want to give them up altogether, be sure to use a light touch. For the same reason, pat or blot (don’t rub) the skin when toweling dry.
  • Apply moisturizer immediately after bathing or after washing your hands. This helps plug the spaces between your skin cells and seal in moisture while your skin is still damp.
  • To reduce the greasy feel of petroleum jelly and thick creams, rub a small amount in your hands, and then rub it over the affected areas until neither your hands nor the affected areas feel greasy.
  • Never, ever scratch. Most of the time, a moisturizer can control the itch. You can also use a cold pack or compress to relieve itchy spots.
  • Use sunscreen in the winter as well as the summer to prevent photoaging.
  • When shaving, use a shaving cream or gel and leave it on your skin for several minutes before starting.
  • Use fragrance-free laundry detergents and avoid fabric softeners.
  • Avoid wearing wool and other fabrics that can irritate the skin.

I went a step further and researched the best skincare products to help combat dryness. My favorite on this list is the Aquaphor. It comes with two small tubes – one for my bedside table, one for my purse. I apply it several times a day in the eye area and the dryness and redness went away!

Let me know your favorite products or winter skin survival tips.

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