Winter skin troubles solved

December 12, 2013  13:43

Dry skin is dry skin, right? Nope. Everyone's complexion is a little bit different, so when cold air hits, your best defense depends on your skin type, lifestyle, habits, and even your skin tone. We looked at some of the most common characteristics of winter skin, and asked the experts about how to deal with them safely and effectively, Fox News reports. Here's how to keep the skin on your face—and body—soft, supple, and strong, all season long.

If your skin is fair

People with fair skin have less pigment and less natural protection against the sun's UV rays. And while they may wear sunscreen in the summer, some people don't know it's important in cold weather too. "The sun will still cause damage," says Dr. Chris Adigun, clinical assistant professor in the department of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City. Everyone can benefit from year-round use of a moisturizer with built-in sunscreen, she adds, but it's extra important for the fair skinned. 

If your skin is freckled

The story is similar for people with freckles.

If your skin is olive-toned or dark

More pigment in the skin may mean more protection from the sun, but it can also put you at risk for long-term scarring from skin irritations such as acne and dry patches. This is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, says Dr. Gary Goldenberg, assistant professor of dermatology at The Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, and it can last for months or even longer in people with dark skin. "It's a main reason for people coming in during the winter—not because they worry about the texture or dryness of their skin, but because they're more concerned with the actual appearance."

Over-the-counter bleaching creams can help large, prominent dark spots fade more quickly, he says, but the best cure is always prevention: Moisturizing every day with a thick, creamy lotion can cut down on irritation and help keep skin looking smooth and even.

If your skin is dry

Ramp up your moisturizing, says Adigun: If you use a lightweight lotion in the summer, switch to a heavier cream or ointment. Get one that you scoop out of a jar or squeeze from a tube; pump formulas are often diluted with water or alcohol, reducing the ability to seal in moisture. Apply every time you shower or wash your face, says Goldenberg, while skin is still damp, and use lukewarm water (not hot, which can irritate skin), keep your shower as short as possible, and choose gentle, fragrance-free soaps or cleansers.  And skip the washcloth, says Adigun. "Аll that does is remove your skin's natural oils."

If your face is flaky

Sunburn, wind burn, or severe dryness can cause your skin to crack and flake off, even if you're using moisturizer regularly. To help remove that damaged top layer of skin, try an exfoliating face wash with citric acid. (Chemical exfoliants are less irritating than physical ones, like rough, scratchy beads or grains.) If your skin stays dry throughout the winter, stick to exfoliating just once or twice a week.

If you have combination skin

Adigun suggests applying a light moisturizer to the forehead, nose, and chin—and a heavier one to dryer areas, like the cheeks and around the eyes and lips. Dry patches may even need an ointment like petroleum jelly, which can help seal moisture in and form a protective barrier against the elements

If you have chapped lips

A lip balm with cocoa butter, vitamins A and E, beeswax, petrolatum, or dimethicone will help soothe and repair broken skin—but to make it even more effective, moisten lips with cool water before applying.

If your skin is greasy

If you have oily skin you may actually catch a bit of a break in the wintertime, says Goldenberg, but that doesn't mean you can slack on your skin-care routine. "I recommend something nice and light, to moisturize face and body after bathing".

If your skin is very sensitive

Sensitive skin gets inflamed very easily during harsh winter months, causing raw, red cheeks in paler complexions and long-lasting hyper-pigmentation spots in darker ones. To keep skin looking and feeling supple and smooth, choose products that are free of colors and fragrances.

If you are prone to breakouts

"With these patients, we want to strike a delicate balance," says Goldenberg: "We want to treat the acne, but that may dry out the skin—so we also need to add moisture back at the same time." He recommends a gentle, non-foaming facial cleanser and a lightweight moisturizer that won't clog pores.

If you have eczema or psoriasis

Conditions like ezcema and psoriasis are prone to winter flare-ups, when it's hard to keep skin moist. Keep showers short and luke-warm, and pat yourself dry (rather than rubbing) with a towel and apply moisturizer immediately, says Goldenberg. The lack of sunlight in the winter can make psoriasis worse. In severe cases, phototherapy with UV light, two to three times a week, may help.

If you spend a lot of time outdoors

Runners, skiers, and anyone who spends hours outside can take a beating from the effects of wind and harsh, cold air on their skin. "For those people, it's actually smart to put something like Vaseline on their skin before they go out," says Goldenberg. Cheeks and lips may be the obvious spots, he says, but don't forget the inside and outside of the nostrils, too; this will help keep nasal passages moist. A broad-spectrum sunscreen is very important, too, says Dr. Adigun, especially when you're spending time at high altitudes where the air is thinner or you're surrounded by snow, which can reflect sunlight onto your face.

If you spend a lot of time indoors

Indoor heating systems sap a lot of the natural moisture from the air, so even if you're not outdoors you can still experience the drying effects of winter. Running a humidifier in your home or office can help, says Dr. Michelle Tarbox, assistant professor of dermatology at Saint Louis University, but it's important to change filters as often as is recommended, and to use distilled water instead of tap. Drink lots of water throughout the day to counteract the effects of caffeine you may be guzzling at your desk or the alcoholic beverages you're enjoying at happy hour—both of which can be dehydrating and may ultimately lead to dry skin.

If you are 50 or older

Even if you never had dry skin, chances are you'll notice a change as you get older. "The sebaceous glands all over our body that produce oil actually slow down and shrink after middle age, but we usually don't alter our bathing habits to compensate for that," says Adigun. "We continue to scrub ourselves head to toe, and that's when I see a lot of patients in their 60s and 70s experiencing eczema or severe dry skin for the first time in their lives."

If you have dry, itchy patches that were never there before, she says, switch to a gentler facial cleanser and body wash, and slather on a creamier moisturizer, head to toe, after showering or washing your face. 

If your kids' skin gets dry

Babies and young children may not have the same issues as older adults, but their skin is also prone to winter dryness and even eczema that may go away as they grow up. Prevent winter itch and flakiness by patting slathering on moisturizer immediately after their bath. Don't let them play in the water for a prolonged period of time, and use as little soap as necessary, says Adigun.


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