It’s the most wonderful time of the year—holiday celebrations with loved ones, good food and good cheer. And yes, it’s even possible to have good skin during the winter months in Chicago. Many of us often experience chapped lips, dry hands and itchy skin this time of year. Let’s take a look at the basic structure of the skin to help understand the effects of topical products on the biological function of the skin. The skin is composed of three primary layers: the epidermis, the dermis and subcutaneous tissue. Each layer possesses specific characteristics and functions; however, we will focus on the epidermis intreating dry skin, also known as xerosis. Xerosis is sometimes referred to as “winter itch” because it is worse during the winter season. The outermost layer of the epidermis, called the stratum corneum provides a barrier against water loss and also helps to absorb unwanted materials that come into contact with our skin. Dry skin is primarily characterized by lack of moisture in the stratum corneum. For the skin to appear and feel comfortable, the water content in stratum corneum must be more than 10 percent. Water,i.e. moisture, is lost when the skin barrier is disrupted by low temperatures, indoor heating, low humidity and brutal winds; especially when combined with harsh soaps and skin care products or frequent, prolonged bathing in hot water. When the skin is too dry, it may become irritated, inflamed, flaky and itchy and can even develop cracks and fissures. Fortunately, there are many ways to address the common problems associated with “winter skin”. Not only is it important to moisturize more often but choosing moisturizers with the most beneficial ingredients is key. Look for products that contain ingredients such as ceramides, which help to repair the skin’s lipid barrier and hyaluronic acid, a good humectant to attract and hold moisture in the skin. One product we often recommend is CeraVe, a relatively inexpensive skincare line which offers a gentle cleanser, moisturizing lotion and a heavier moisturizing cream. CeraVe products are also fragrance-free; an important factor when choosing skin care for sensitive or dry skin as perfumes and scented products can cause irritation and further inflame the skin. And, remember, high-end, expensive products don’t necessarily work any better than inexpensive ones. In fact, some higher end products may contain unnecessary or irritating ingredients. The most important factor is how your skin feels and looks in response to a product—not how much the product costs. Even plain olive oil can be used as a gentle and effective moisturizer.
Chapped lips are also a common and uncomfortable condition this time of year. Again, avoid flavored and fragranced lip products which can exacerbate the problem. Petroleum jelly or Aquaphor are simple and effective lip treatments. For severely chapped lips, ask your doctor about a lip balm containing 1% hydrocortisone.
Long, hot showers or baths may be tempting after an outing in Chicago winter weather; however, it’s best to stick with quick bathing in lukewarm water to help prevent dryness. Moisturizing right after bathing and handwashing is especially important during the winter months. Investing in a humidifier is also an excellent option for adding moisture to your home environment which in turn benefits the skin. If you sleep with a humidifier in the bedroom, keep doors closed to prevent the moist airfrom escaping the room.
Wool clothing feels good during the winter months but be aware that wool is a common skin irritant that may cause redness, itching and rashes in persons with sensitive skin.
Healthy lifestyle measures such as not smoking, regularexercise and good nutrition help promote good skin year around. Heart-healthy fats such as Omega 3’sfound in olive oil, walnuts and fish are also “skin-healthy” by helping to keepthe skin supple from the inside out.
Some skin regimes for acne or anti-aging may also increase winter dryness and irritation of the skin. Products containing retinol, glycolic or salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide may be especially drying during wintertime. However, for persons considering skin rejuvenation procedures such as laser treatments or chemical peels, winter is a good time of year due to the importance of avoiding sun exposure following those procedures.
Finally, please remember to use sunscreen year around to help prevent skin cancer and premature aging of the skin.