6 Tips for Protecting Your Skin from Winter Weather
Winter weather can be harsh, bringing extremely cold temperatures, bitter winds and blizzards. Our most precious layer of protection – our skin – can be compromised or even damaged by winter weather.
Colder weather is often accompanied by decreased humidity, which in turn causes excessive drying of the skin. Drying of the skin can also aggravate decreased activity of the sebaceous glands, which tend to be less active during the winter months. Sebaceous glands are located within the skin, often near hair follicles, and are responsible for secreting protective oils on the surface of the skin.
When skin becomes excessively dry, it can become damaged to the extent that cracks in the skin may result. Skin cracks, which are often painful, may be accompanied by bleeding, and most concerning, may become the portal of entry for bacteria. Bacteria naturally lives on our skin, and once a break in the skin occurs, bacteria, fungus or viruses can enter the body, resulting in infection.
Many persons afflicted with diabetes also suffer from autonomic neuropathy. Autonomic neuropathy is a neurological condition that affects the nerves which supply organs including the skin (the skin is the body’s largest organ). This condition is not limited to diabetics, however, regardless of underlying the cause, the winter months can be especially concerning for the skin health of this population.
Whether you find your skin excessively dry due to the winter weather, autonomic neuropathy, or perhaps a combination of both, there are things you can do to protect your skin and your health.
- Stay hydrated. Warmer days are often associated with the need to constantly drink water or to rehydrate, primarily over concerns of heatstroke. The daily reminder the warm weather gives us to hydrate is often not felt during colder days. Maintaining proper hydration will benefit your skin and is essential for optimal metabolic function.
- Be cognizant of heaters. Whatever the type of indoor heating you are exposed to, the warm air produced by heaters tends to be dry. As mentioned, excessive drying of the skin and protective oils can cause decreased moisture and resultant cracking of the skin. A humidifier, either central or standalone, can increase the relative humidity around you.
- Cover up. Whenever you’re outdoors in harsh weather, protect your skin with a hat, scarf and gloves. Even a few minutes’ exposure to cold and bitter winds can dehydrate already dry skin.
- Be aware of your diet. Besides the overindulging and seasonal weight gain associated with holiday eating, suboptimal nutrition can have a negative impact on your skin. Your skin is essentially wrapped in a “protective bubble” of fats that helps keep the skin cells soft and supple and act as a barrier on the skin. A lack of essential fatty acids, especially Omega-3 fatty acids, will diminish the protective capacity of the skin due to a decrease in oils that must be obtained from dietary sources such as fish (salmon, cod, haddock, mackerel, sardines), walnuts, soybeans, and flaxseed.
- Don’t take excessively hot or long showers. While both may feel wonderful, extreme bathing temperature or duration can cause further dehydration of the skin. Once again, the protective oils of your skin can be impaired or reduced through such bathing, with the use of harsh soaps an additional contributing factor. When bathing, try to limit your shower or baths to no more than 10 minutes, and keep temperatures warm versus hot. Use soaps and bath products with gentle formulas.
- Replenish your skin’s oils and protective barrier. Application of a non-alcohol-based skin moisturizer can help rehydrate and protect your skin. Lotions with heavy fragrances tend to contain alcohol, which can cause further drying of the skin. This can result in the need for frequent re-application of lotions as the skin remains in a constant state of dryness despite moisturizer application. Omeza skin protectant is comprised of omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids in addition to Vitamins A, D and E and contains no alcohol or water. It is absorbed by the skin and helps strengthen and moisturize skin, with the additional benefit of exfoliation of dead and drying skin. Omeza skin protectant also helps reduce trans epidermal water loss from skin, one form of the dehydration that can be associated with the dry winter environment.
This winter season, protect your skin and your health using these simple tips, and see your doctor if you develop any unusual or serious skin reactions.
-Dr. Desmond Bell