Winterize Your Skin

Although winter begins officially in December, I know that protecting my complexion and skin from the ravages of dry overheated indoor air and windy cold dry blasts outdoors requires attention before the official start of the season.
Dr. Anetta Reszko sees the problems of winter skin damage in her practice and has created ten ways to avoid winter damage to the skin.

Dr. Pat


1. Eat a Balanced Diet and Stay Hydrated

Eat a healthy diet full of nutrients and vitamins to keep your skin, hair, and nails looking and feeling healthy. During winter months, supplement your diet with essential fatty acids (EFAs) and minerals, especially zinc and selenium.


  • Omega-3 fats, found in fish such as salmon, sardines, and fish oil
  • Gamma-linolenic acid, such as evening primrose oil
  • Zinc-rich foods like oysters, pumpkin seeds, beef, crab, lima beans, and chickpeas
  • Natural selenium sources like Brazil nuts, shiitake mushrooms, salmon, shrimp, eggs, and garlic

Stay hydrated. Skin is designed as a protective barrier to keep moisture in and environmental stressors such as bacteria and allergens out. But cold winter air has extraordinarily low moisture content. Especially when combined with wind, cool air dramatically dehydrates the skin. Keratinocytes—skin cells—are like interlocking blocks. Lack of hydration and resulting dry skin causes gaps between individual keratinocytes, resulting in progressive and worsening skin dehydration, increasing so-called transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and leading to skin inflammation (redness, scale formation, itchiness).

Dr. Reszko’s Tip: Dehydrated and inflamed skin is also more prone to develop contact allergies. Avoid products with fragrances, preservatives, and lanolin. Lanolin is a common component of moisturizers and a known source of contact dermatitis, especially in older individuals.


2. Control Your Alcohol Consumption

Recognize that this social season, with more than enough alcohol in all forms, is never good for the complexion.  Patients who drink too much often develop rosacea or if they have this and other inflammatory skin conditions, alcohol overuse worsens the complexion, creating red thick areas, inflammatory papules and many broken capillaries across the skin and the nose.


3. Winterize Your Moisturizer

As the weather conditions change, so should your moisturizer. Find an oil-based “ointment” rather than water-based moisturizer. Oily base will create a protective layer on the skin that retains more moisture than a cream or lotion. In general, ointments are more hydrating than creams, and creams are more hydrating than lotions.

Dr. Reszko’s Tip: Look for moisturizers containing “humectants,” a class of substances (including glycerin, sorbitol, and hyaluronic acid) that attract and retain moisture of your skin and ceramides [waxy lipid molecules found within the skin]. Ceramides are the key component in restoring the barrier function of the skin. Together with cholesterol and saturated fatty acids, ceramides create a water-impermeable, protective organ to prevent excessive water evaporation. Note that normal aging is associated with a decline in ceramide synthesis, requiring additional supplementation.

Another Tip: After applying a moisturizer, immediately cover the area with clothing to enhance absorption and prevent evaporation. Maintenance of the skin barrier is more valuable than treatment after the skin is already dehydrated, red, dry, and itchy.


4. Protect your face

If your face is uncomfortably dry, avoid using harsh peels, masks, and alcohol-based toners or astringents, all of which can strip vital oils from your skin. Instead, use a cleansing milk or mild foaming cleanser, a toner without alcohol, and masks that are “deeply hydrating.”

Choose appropriate oils for the face. Look for “non-comedogenic” (non-clogging) oils, like avocado oil, primrose oil, or almond oil.

Dr. Reszko’s Tip: The popular body moisturizer shea oil/butter might be too clogging for the face


5. Hands

The skin on your hands is thinner than on most parts of the body and has fewer sebaceous oil glands. That means it is harder to keep your hands moist, especially in cold, dry weather. Dryness can lead to itchiness and cracking. Wear gloves when you go outside; if you need to wear wool to keep your hands warm, slip on a thin cotton glove first to avoid any irritation the wool may cause.


6. Feet

Your feet are especially vulnerable in cold weather, drying out and forming calluses. To remove calluses and increase skin hydration, try soaking your feet in warm water with oil for 5 to 10 minutes. Use a pumice stone or chemical exfoliation (urea, lactic acid, alpha-hydroxy acid) to remove the dead skin. Apply moisturizer immediately after. Exfoliation helps any moisturizer you use to sink in faster and deeper. Don’t forget to protect your feet by wearing cotton socks.


7. Lips

Like the skin on the hands, the skin on the lips is super-thin and doesn’t have a lot of oil glands, so lips tend to dry out and crack in the winter. To prevent lips from peeling, exfoliate gently with a washcloth or soft toothbrush and then apply a hydrating lip balm with oil- or petrolatum-based moisturizers like Vaseline or Aquaphor. Apply a lip balm with SPF to both lips all year round. Avoid products with fragrance and scent.

Dr. Reszko’s Tip: Do not forget to cover your lips with a thick lip balm before going to sleep. Mouth breathing at night exacerbates daytime lip dryness and chapping. A thick layer of emollient will also protect your lips and face from excessive salivation. Drooling may cause irritation and subsequent inflammation of the skin and may lead to yeast colonization, a medical condition called perleche.


8. Invest In a Humidifier

Heating systems blow hot, dry air throughout our homes and offices. Humidifiers replenish the air’s moisture, preventing your skin from drying out. Place several small humidifiers throughout your home so they help disperse the moisture more evenly. A humidifier in the bedroom is an absolute must!


 9. Ban Super-Hot Showers/Baths

Love long, hot showers? So do I! Nothing feels better on a cold winter day than a hot bath. But the intense heat of a hot shower or bath actually breaks down the lipid barriers of the skin, which in turn increases moisture loss.

A lukewarm bath with oils or oatmeal can help relieve skin that is so dry that it has become inflamed and itchy. Never rub skin; dab dry with a towel and put on a moisturizer with humectants and/or ceramides the moment you step out of the bath/shower to seal in the moisture.

In the winter months, switch to a moisturizing soap, and use less of it. Avoid scented body wash (it’s too drying) and go for fragrance-free moisturizing bars instead.


10. When Dry Skin Is More Than Dry Skin

If all fails, see your dermatologist. You might require prescription-strength medications to prevent  the cycle of skin inflammation. Inflammatory skin conditions such as rosacea, atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, or psoriasis might mimic dry skin and require proper dermatologic evaluation and treatment.


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