Moisture Matters

With a little effort your skin can look its dewy best despite the cold of winter.

Beverly Burmeier

February 2010


Got a skincare routine you follow faithfully? Good for you. But remember that your skin’s needs change with the seasons: Winter brings a double whammy of cold air outside and extreme heat inside. Protecting skin from the elements may require adjusting your regimen to match the change in weather.

Maintaining Moisture

“Moisturizing is the first step in defying winter’s harmful effects,” says Joel Schlessinger, MD, a dermatologist in Omaha, Nebraska and president emeritus of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery. Humidity is generally lower in winter; add in heaters, fireplaces and dehumidifiers, and it’s no wonder your skin can feel like sandpaper. If you typically use a water-based moisturizer, consider switching to an oil-based product—the creamier, the better. “You can protect the outer layer of skin from drying out with a highly emollient moisturizer containing lanolin or stearates (oils),” says S. Manjula Jegasothy, MD, associate professor of dermatology at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and president of the Miami Skin Institute.


To soothe and hydrate chapped skin, celebrity facialist Joanne Vargas recommends applying a shea butter-based moisturizer over an oil-based serum. She especially likes argan oil, a medicinal oil from Morocco that acts as a natural sunscreen and promotes skin elasticity. “Thicker moisturizers last longer and oils (including products containing avocado, olive or almond oil, if you’re not allergic) penetrate deep into your skin, giving your face a glow,” says Vargas, president of a New York skincare salon.

Your skin’s natural oils are washed away during showering or bathing, especially if you’re fond of long, hot sessions. “Prolonged heat opens pores, which allows skin to lose moisture,” says Jegasothy. During the winter she recommends switching to a mild soap or shower gel with added oils and fats.

Seal in moisture by rubbing a little oil or moisturizer over your body while skin is slightly damp. “Wet skin encourages penetration of the moisturizer, and warmth helps hold it in and repair the dry outer layer,” Jegasothy says. Be sure to include your feet, knees and elbows.

Don’t forget moisturizing from within. According to Vargas, the skin is the last organ in the body to receive water, so drinking plenty of fluids can help combat winter dryness from the inside out. Avoid caffeine, a natural diuretic that further depletes water stores in the body. Alcohol also dehydrates skin and inhibits circulation in the eye area, which may result in puffy eyes. Nothing beats pure water as the drink of choice, but you can also boost your hydration level with broths, juices and decaffeinated tea.

Exfoliation for Renewal

Eliminating dry, flaky cells from the skin’s surface allows for deeper moisturizing, says Vargas, who adds, “Skin cells die more quickly in winter and need to be removed so moisture can sink in.”

Exfoliate in the shower or right after cleansing your face at night because you won’t be exposing your body to heat, light and pollution. Gently scrub with a washcloth—baking soda adds a little more abrasion—to remove dead skin cells and encourage cell rejuvenation. A mild loofa sponge works well on elbows and knees, while an exfoliating body wash can be used all over. Limit use of cleansers with beads or grains, which may become lodged in pores.

If your skin is extremely dry or you have an immune-related skin condition such as eczema or rosacea, apply a soothing mask. Oatmeal is good for all skin types; soy products work better for postmenopausal women or people with chronic skin dryness. For a natural touch, mash pineapple (which contains the enzyme bromelain) or papaya (which contains papain) and mix with a gentle mask or plain moisturizer to help it stick. Apply to your face, and let it dry before washing it off.

The sun still shines in winter, and reflections off snow and ice can be particularly harmful. Even if your moisturizer or foundation contains sun protection, it’s a good idea to apply more if you’ll be outdoors longer than 20 minutes. The intense rays of ultraviolet light not only cause sunburn but also result in wrinkles, dark spots and rough, dry patches, good reasons to apply sunscreen year-round. Your sunscreen should be broad spectrum—offering protection against UVA and UVB, the two main types of ultraviolet light—and have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. A lip balm or lipstick with moisturizers and an SPF of 15 or more will keep those tender tissues from chapping or cracking. (Instead of licking lips to counteract dryness, apply a light coating of lanolin.)


Proper diet forms the foundation for proper skincare no matter what the calendar says. Keep citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits and lemons on your menu throughout winter. “Vitamin C is the best single thing you can take by mouth for skin health,” says Jegasothy. “It hydrates and helps with elasticity.” As part of a balanced diet, rainbow-colored produce such as sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cantaloupe, carrots, blueberries, broccoli and spinach are especially important for promoting healthy skin in the winter, supplying such skin-friendly nutrients as beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene.

Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fatty fish and flax seeds, help keep skin supple, as does the supplement MSM.

Don’t let Old Man Winter ravage your skin. Changes in your routine can let you face blustery weather with confidence.

 

Caring for Your Nails Naturally

Winter isn’t only hard on your skin—it can be rough on your nails, too. Caring for your nails adds only a few minutes to your daily beauty regimen but contributes plenty to your overall appearance.

Nails are made of keratin, the same tough, fibrous protein of which hair is composed. They rest on nail beds, which transmits nutrients from the blood and lymph to the nails. They grow more slowly during the winter than in the summer.

The best way to reduce your nails is with a fine emery board instead of a nail clipper, always filing from the sides to the center. Follow filing with a tip-to-cuticle buffing (reserve nail polish, which contains a lot of harsh chemicals, for special occasions). To shape your cuticles, soak your nails in warm, soapy water, dry thoroughly and push them gently into place with a wooden stick. Finish with a good, natural-ingredient hand cream.

Nails also need to be fed from the inside. Biotin (vitamin B7) helps keep nails healthy, while vitamin B12 helps retard dryness (as do omega-3 fatty acids). Calcium and magnesium, along with vitamins A and D, help prevent nails from becoming brittle. A lack of iron can result in thin, pale nails and vitamin C deficiency can cause hangnails. Finally, organic sulfur is essential to healthy nails; the supplement MSM is a rich source.

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