Winter Care for Healthier Skin

Our skin simply isn’t happy with winter. Whether it’s buried beneath layers of clothing or exposed to the elements, skin can be itchy, irritable and uncomfortable — not to mention cracked and chapped lips. Here, some ways to help.

Handle with care. Dry skin is fragile, so be kind while washing and drying. You don’t need expensive products — a gentle cleanser like glycerin soap will do the trick. Despite the chill in the air, it’s still better to use warm rather than hot water, and don’t linger too long in the bathtub (no more than 15 minutes) or you’ll risk losing precious moisture and nourishing oils. When you reach for the towel, avoid rubbing your skin and pat dry instead.

Avoid irritants. Our favourite products may be part of the problem since the harsh chemicals and perfumes in detergents and grooming products can aggravate the skin. Cleaning products can strip moisture and oils from your skin, and allow potentially dangerous toxins to seep in.

Moisturize regularly. For daytime wear on the face, use a moisturizer with at least SPF 15. Baby oil is an option for extra-dry skin, and aloe vera and anti-oxidant ingredients provide benefits too. Avoid products with alcohol — they’ll dry out the skin. Feet and hands will need something much creamier and heavier this time of year.

The best time to apply is when your skin is still moist from the shower or bath so you can trap the moisture. Thanks to winter’s drying conditions, your skin may need an extra boost throughout the day — this is especially true for hands, which we’re washing even more these days.

Be generous with the lip balm. Lips have very thin layers of skin that can easily dry out and crack, leading to discomfort and possible infection. Keep a protective and moisturizing barrier on our lips as much as possible in the winter — and apply some balm before bed too.

According to WebMD, the best choices are emollient balms or ointments, not those waxy sticks. Look for ingredients like petrolatum, caster seed oil, shea butter, sunflower seed oil, squalene, hyaluronic acid and glycerin. Avoid potentially irritating ingredients like camphor and menthol, and opt for tubes over pots to keep germs and bacteria out. Another no-no: flavoured balms, which encourage you to lick your lips.

Shun the sun. We know what the sun does to our skin, and it isn’t pretty. However, short days are no excuse to skip our sun-healthy habits. Even though the UV Index isn’t as high in the winter, snow and wet pavement reflect light back at us. Use sunscreen (or a moisturizer with sunscreen), a lip balm with SPF and don a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes as well as the delicate skin surrounding them.

Shelter from the elements. There’s a reason for the term “weather-beaten complexion”: the wind can dry out your skin, and constantly moving between warm and cold environments — like the office to the outdoors — doesn’t help either. Put your fashion sense to work with a hat, scarf, wrap or other protective clothing to cover exposed skin, especially when there’s a wind chill warning.

Use a humidifier. Dry air draws moisture from any source possible — including your skin. Indoor heating means our homes and workplaces are notoriously dry this time of year, and we’re spending more time in them. Hanging up wet laundry and setting out bowls of water can supply some relief, but you may need a humidifier to get enough moisture.

Experts note that 35 to 50 per cent humidity is ideal. A humidity gauge from the hardware store can help you keep track.

Exercise. It’s easy to give in to that sluggish feeling, but now is the time to fight it. We know exercise mitigates the effects of other ailments — like stress and fatigue — but your skin also benefits from a good workout. Good circulation means more oxygen and vitamins are supplied to the skin, helping it look refreshed and younger.

Eat right. Your skin is more than just an outer shell: it’s part of a complex system and it needs good nutrition too. The good news: the foods that are good for the heart and waistline are good for the skin too — like vitamin-packed fruits and vegetables, anti-oxidants, vitamin D and essential fatty acids. (Check out 6 keys to healthy eating for details.)

What you eat can affect your lips too. Constant exposure to acidic foods and liquids can have a damaging effect and can cause pain to all of those little cracks and sores.

Provide some pampering. Sometimes our skin needs a little extra help. A good soak, a gentle exfoliating scrub and nourishing treatments can help provide relief. Spa treatments make great gifts for special occasions like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or birthdays, but you don’t have to go to the expense (or even leave your home) for some pampering. Many ingredients like oats, honey and yoghurt can be used to cleanse and moisturize skin. (See Do it yourself spa and European beauty secrets for ideas and recipes.)

Manage stress. There’s no way around it — stress negatively impacts your health and your skin is no exception. Stress can rob the skin of water, making it difficult for it to repair itself and heal. Studies have also shown that stress triggers the release of certain chemicals like cortisol that can worsen skin conditions like atopic dermatitis and acne thanks to increased oil production. Cortisol can also break down collagen — which your skin needs for elasticity.

We may not always be able to avoid stress in our lives, but exercising more, employing relaxation techniques and keeping our relationships healthy can make sure it doesn’t get the better of us.

Adapt your make-up routine. Not all products are designed for year-round use — like that powder foundation you loved during the summer that isn’t doing your dry winter skin any favours. As the condition of your skin changes, it may be time to re-examine the products in your make-up bag. Visit the beauty counter and ask for advice. Switching from powder-based to liquid-based products may help improve your skin’s appearance.

Keep an eye out for changes. Our skin isn’t the same in winter, but that doesn’t mean all changes are “normal”. Rashes, blisters, dark spots, wounds that don’t heal and changes to moles should warrant a trip to the doctor. Excessively dry skin that isn’t relieved by moisturizers and rough, scaly patches can signal conditions like hypothyroidism. Winter can also make certain skin conditions worse, so a change of treatment may be needed.

Same goes for the scalp — a little dandruff is to be expected, but unexplained hair loss or changes to the scalp should be looked at.

Overall, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time, cash or trial-and-error to keep our skin and lips healthy in the winter. It may take a little work and dedication, but preventing problems before they get worse can make you more comfortable in your own skin this season.

Sources: Canadian Dermatology Association,, The National Post,, WebMD.