What do cleansers, alcohol and coffee have in common? They are the worst enemies of your skin during winter, sucking out the moisture from your skin and making it extremely dry and itchy. As it's the season for hand washing and enjoying adult beverages, Michelle Tarbox, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at Saint Louis University, suggests some easy ways to regularly hydrate your skin and prevent it from getting chapped or cracked.
The secret to healthy and glowing skin during the winter is to nourish your skin from the outside as well as the inside, said Tarbox, a SLUCare dermatologist.
"As the temperature is low and the heater is on, the indoor air gets dehydrated and your skin loses moisture from the environment," she said. "Water always moves down-hill, even on a microscopic level, and when the level of moisture in the air drops due to the heating process, it practically sucks the water out of your skin"
To balance out the loss of moisture, Tarbox suggests simply plugging in a humidifier while sleeping as well as working. This can help replace the moisture lost in the air from the heating process. However, she emphasizes, it is also important to change the humidifier filters as recommended by the manufacturer and use distilled water instead of tap water for better results.
"Humidifying the air can reverse the process of skin dehydration and is particularly helpful for patients with dermatitis (an itchy inflammation of the skin)," she added.
Not only does the dry air make your skin itch, but it can also affect the mucosal surfaces that include the mouth, eyes and nasal areas. When these are dehydrated, they increase your vulnerability to viral infections such as flu and cold viruses. This is especially important to remember while traveling by airplane for holidays. Mucosal surfaces can be moisturized with a simple over the counter saline spray.
If you will be spending a lot of time in the kitchen cooking up a big feast this season, be prepared to use hand soaps that can have a harsh impact on your skin. Cleansers can lead to hand eczema, a long-term skin disorder, dermatitis and dryness. Tarbox suggests investing in a skin-friendly cleanser that will reduce the dryness on your hands.
"Some cleaners are more gentle and moisturizing than the others," she said. "You can look for some beneficial ingredients like essential oils, jojoba oil, and shea butter oil."
While festive beverages such as holiday cocktails and coffee drinks can add to the high spirits of the season, the alcohol content and caffeine can cause your body to become dehydrated, potentially leading to dry skin.
"This is the opposite of what you want, because during winter you can already be dehydrated at baseline," said Tarbox. "You not only have to compensate for the heater being on and the internal air being dry, but also the water loss that you're having because of the beverages that you may be enjoying."
Tarbox recommends drinking a glass of water for each alcoholic and caffeinated beverage. "That will decrease the dehydration you suffer because of the beverage and also reduce the symptoms of the potential holiday hangover the next day."
As the name suggests, a moisturizer is used to replenish the lost moisture from the skin. Tarbox suggests using products that contain ceramides, which are lipid (fat) molecules containing fatty acids. While fats are generally considered unhealthy, ceramides protect your skin from the outside world.
Harsh cleansers may strip ceramides and other natural oils from the skin, leading to cracks and cuts in your skin barrier and increasing the risk for dehydration. While buying a moisturizer, you can also look for other high quality oil ingredients such as shea butter, jojoba and avocado oil.
Tarbox also recommends buying the right type of moisturizer for your skin. "The less water a moisturizer has, the longer it will last," she said. "A lotion is going to be the least long lasting as it has more water than a cream. When in doubt, thicker is often better while choosing a skin moisturizer."