Update your skin-care routine this winter to prevent chapping

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As winter approaches, paying extra attention to your skin is essential to protect it from the harsh effects of cold, dry weather and sun exposure.

Skin can become dry, itchy and irritated with winter’s lower humidity levels and indoor heating. While some maintain the same skin-care routines year-round, dermatologists and skin-care experts recommend making a few minor adjustments.

“For the most part, people’s skin day-to-day is similar, based on their environment, but in the wintertime, and through the fall, there are [changes] that should reflect on your skin care,” said Muneeb Shah, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.

Yes, the sun can still damage your skin

Many people decrease their use of sunscreens or choose lotions with lower SPFs in the winter, and that’s a mistake. Less direct winter sunlight can still pose a significant threat to skin health, and it’s capable of causing sunburn and premature aging. So, consistent use of sunscreen with a sufficient SPF rating is vital.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher year-round to protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays for all skin types.

“People are not as diligent in terms of putting on sunscreen on the sun-exposed areas, so oftentimes, we need to remind our patients to make sure that they still do the standard application of sunscreen,” said April Armstrong, the chief of dermatology at UCLA Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Those who participate in outdoor winter sports such as skiing “actually are getting double the amount of UV [because of] exposure directly from the sun, [and] also … reflecting off of snow.”

Several experts recommended adding products with hyaluronic acid, which provides cushioning in your eyes and joints and is now a popular ingredient in many skin-care products. Adding the substance to your routine, they said, can help minimize dryness as the temperature drops because it helps lock moisture in.

Hyaluronic acid is what “keeps your skin nice and plump and keeps [the] juices flowing,” said Sophia Seligmann, a master aesthetician based in D.C.

Seligmann recommends using hyaluronic acid year-round and making it a consistent part of any skin-care routine. It should be used twice daily — morning and night.

Sorry, but hot showers mean drier skin

As comforting as they can be, high water temperatures can significantly contribute to skin dryness, as this recent study reports. Experts say it’s one of the leading causes of skin irritation in the winter because hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils — which is why the American Academy of Dermatology recommends moisturizing the skin while it is still damp to help lock in moisture.

“If you think about it in terms of washing your dishes with cold water, it doesn’t remove the oils as well as [hot water] … which removes the oils from the skin and makes your skin drier,” Shah said. “Hot water is going to play a big role in preventing dry skin.”

Armstrong said patients also should be cautious about starting chemical peels or using topical products, including retinol, in cold weather because of potential side effects such as dryness and irritation.

“Be judicious about it because with the already drying atmosphere, sometimes it [makes] the skin more sensitive,” Armstrong said. “Adding additional moisturizer may be needed.”

Diet plays a crucial role in keeping the body healthy year-round. But during the winter and around the holidays, people tend to consume more foods with a higher glycemic index, which can irritate the skin. High-glycemic foods include sweets that are high in refined carbs and sugar, as well as white bread and white rice.

“In the winter, there really shouldn’t be anything in your diet that should be causing your skin to be more dry, or to break out more in any way,” Shah said. “Probably the only thing that I would say to avoid in general would just be like a high glycemic diet.”

Researchers also have found an association between a high glycemic diet and severe acne, another reason experts recommend maintaining a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, proteins and fiber all year.

  • You may also need to adjust your hair-care routine in the cold weather. Wearing protective layers including hats and scarves and limiting the use of heated styling tools can minimize damage. Deep conditioners and oils to protect the hair’s cuticle also can help.
  • Using thicker creams or moisturizers daily can minimize the harsh effects of cold, dry air, which saps moisture from the skin and can lead to flakiness. Richer emollient moisturizers can create a protective barrier that helps to lock in moisture and shield the skin from the harsh wind and cold.
  • Stick to a simple but consistent regimen. “For winter specifically I would make sure you have a good cleanser, a hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and moisturizer and never, ever skip your SPF,” Seligmann said. Vitamin C is a popular ingredient in many products that can promote skin firmness, reduce the appearance of dark spots, brighten up the skin and help protect against pollution and UV radiation.
  • For dry and chapped lips, use a face lotion or cream first and then smooth on petroleum jelly to minimize flakiness and irritation.
  • Exfoliate once or twice a week to boost the absorption of creams or serums by removing dead skin cells.

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