Treating Winter Skin
How to best protect your epidermis against the ravages of cold weather
Ah, winter. ’Tis the season for dry skin, along with potential complications, including itching, flaking, cracking, bleeding, rosacea (redness and inflammation), eczema flare-ups and inflammatory conditions, such as seborrhoeic dermatitis and psoriasis.
There are several reasons for this. First, the air outdoors is drier, because low temperatures cause water molecules to condense rather than remain in the atmosphere. Indoor air tends to be parched as well, an effect of heating systems. Seniors need to take extra care, since long-term sun damage and slower production of natural oils put them at greater risk of dryness.
According to Dr Aparna Santhanam, consultant dermatologist at Hinduja Hospital and Shree Hospital, Mumbai, there also appears to be a clear correlation between a spike in air pollution and an increase in the number of people suffering from skin problems, such as acne, hives and eczema.
“It is clear that air pollution not only affects skin on a cosmetic level, but also poses a real threat to skin health. Those living in highly polluted areas have significantly worse skin hydration than those living in cleaner suburbs even if they make better lifestyle choices, such as regular cleansing routines, sufficient water consumption and better skin-care product usage,” she says.
Luckily, there’s plenty you can do to reduce winter’s toll on your skin.
To start, adapt your bathing routine. Piping hot water may feel good, but that’s a sure way to strip away your skin’s natural oils. Use warm water instead, keep your baths or showers short and apply a generous amount of moisturizer after you dry off.
Thick, oily products are especially effective at fighting winter moisture loss, “but don’t despair if you can’t tolerate those due to pore clogging or shininess”, says Dr Bav Shergill, a consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation. “Even a light moisturi-zer will give you some protection.”
“Today, the variety of formulations to help moisturize without greasiness, especially in a tropical climate like India, is tremendous. Look for words such as ‘lotion’, ‘gel lotion’, ‘lightweight’, ‘non-comedogenic’ and ‘suitable for oily skin’ while buying products,” Santhanam suggests.
When it comes to your hands, frequent washing with soap is essential for preventing the flu and other infections, but it also leads to dryness. So apply hand cream after cleaning. If that doesn’t help enough, try a dab of petroleum jelly before bed; you can put on cotton gloves to keep it in place overnight.
“Pay special attention to vulnerable areas such as elbows, knees, ankles, heels, lips, hands and feet,” says Santhanam. “Also, humidifiers can combat dryness caused by prolonged use of room-heaters,” she adds.
If you’re prone to winter itch (which is exactly what it sounds like), avoid direct contact with potentially irritating fabrics such as wool or synthetic fibres. “The best approach is to wear several thin layers,” says Shergill. “The one next to the skin could be cotton or a cotton–silk blend, both of which appear to be well tolerated by most people.” Layering lets you adapt to various temperatures during the day, keeping you toasty while avoiding excessive sweating that could trigger itching in already-irritated skin.
In addition to external support, your insides also need care to battle the ravages of winter. Santhanam advises “a diet rich in natural fats such as almonds, walnuts, peanuts and a lot of brightly coloured seasonal fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, beetroots, dragon fruit and purple grapes, which are packed with antioxidants. Turmeric and ginger tea with lime help to fight pollutants and inflammation as well.”
—With inputs by Ishani Nandi