How to Deal with Winter Skin: a Dermatologist’s Guide
November 13, 2020
Winter is upon us again, and while I do love the changing of the different seasons, winter often brings challenges to the skin. And of course, this winter is potentially going to be even more challenging due to all the upheaval of the Covid 19 pandemic. So in this month’s blog, I will go through some ways to alleviate the effects of winter on your skin.
Dry Skin in Winter
The cold dry air with its low humidity often reduces the skin barrier function, and predisposes us to having dry, flaky skin which can be more prone to cracking and fissuring, especially on the fingers, hands, face and lips. Add in other elements such as the wind and blustery conditions and our skin can feel quite raw and exposed; this is when it becomes red, itchy and irritated.
When the ambient temperature drops in winter our body tries to retain heat, diverting blood flow from the periphery (such as your skin) to more central locations by constricting the blood vessels in your skin. This is all part of normal homeostatic responses to essentially keep you alive, such as in the case of frostbite. Your body would rather preserve your heart and brain than your fingers!
When the blood flow is reduced to your skin, the outer layers become dry and dull and have a tendency to flaking, cracking and fissuring. There will be less nutrients provided to your skin as well as a reduction in clearance of waste products within skin cells.
Additionally, winter is when people with inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and rosacea tend to flare up and become harder to manage. In my clinical experience it is the time of year when I need to monitor my patients with these conditions much more closely. It is very important if you have such a condition that you keep up with your treatments and contact your dermatologist if you are struggling.
Skincare and Coronavirus
Cleaning Products and Moisturiser
As mentioned, this winter is a double whammy of skincare challenges as we have the additional issues of increased use of hand cleaning products due to the coronavirus. These products should be containing high levels of alcohol to be effective. Unfortunately, alcohol on the skin further reduces the skin barrier function as well as causing irritation - a vicious circle. For everyone to keep safe, these products are unavoidable for the foreseeable future. My top skin tip is: moisturise, moisturise and then moisturise some more!
Face Masks and Acne
In addition, the face masks we are all having to wear can cause "maskne", or acne mechanicus. This is an acneiform rash or pimples that appear in areas with prolonged contact to the mask, and occurs due to the sweat, oil and dirt accumulating under the mask. The best way to combat this is to cleanse well twice a day, then use serum like Absolute Collagen’s Maxerum, which is densely packed full of powerful skin-boosting ingredients; leave on the skin for 2-5 minutes, before moisturising well for approximately 30 seconds. Also, regularly clean your mask and frequently replace disposable ones.
Skincare and Heat
The other major contributor to winter skin issues is indoor heating such as your gas central heating and woodburners. While it is a great feeling to get in from the cold into the warmth of your home, the heating does your skin no favours. The dry indoor heat takes moisture out of the air and your skin, which dries it out. In fact, overdoing long term close proximity to a heat source can cause an unpleasant reticular rash called erythema ab igne (EAI), also known as hot water bottle rash - so please do be careful next to that lovely log fire!
Plus, winter means sweater weather. Wool and other rough materials can aggravate skin, so it is a good idea to avoid direct contact with your skin as much as possible. Try to have a light and breathable base layer underneath; 100% silk or 100% cotton are good materials to have next to your skin. The same goes for gloves - you are going to need gloves to protect you from the worst of the winter weather, so make sure you have gloves with a lining that is gentle to your skin. If not, I recommend getting some thin silk or cotton "undergloves".
Top Tips for Winter Skincare
Take a Daily Dose of Absolute Collagen
Continue to take your Absolute Collagen regularly, as you will really need it over the winter. It is scientifically shown that collagen supplements can make your skin more soft and supple. Collagen does many things; it provides the "scaffolding" and support structure of your skin, and integrates other vital components, helps to "lock in" and retain the moisture in your skin, and also helps prevent lines and wrinkles. It also benefits hair and nails, and, as both tend to get quite dry and brittle over the winter, this will be a great help.
Vitamin C is both a powerful antioxidant and also a required component for collagen synthesis, which is why Absolute Collagen contains Vitamin C. Plus, you should avoid sugar as much as possible as sugar is damaging to collagen. In terms of other supplements you might want to take, zinc and selenium are also good supplements for your skin, hair and nails.
Staying well hydrated is actually harder to do over the winter as you are sweating less and the cold discourages drinking more water. However, water is vital for so many body functions and you do need to replace the moisture lost from the skin from within. Some people find a bottle with a straw allows them to sip regularly during the day and monitor their water intake effectively.
Take Vitamin D
Check your levels if needed. You may be surprised to learn that most people in the UK are deficient, especially those from ethnic backgrounds with darker skin types. Vitamin D helps with eczema, psoriasis and dry skin in general. Vitamin D deficiency, meanwhile, causes bones, groans and psychic moans! In other words bone pain, muscle weakness and cramps/aches, fatigue and mood changes. A lack of Vitamin D is also linked to low mood and depression.
Invest in a Humidifier
Keep a humidifier in the room or rooms you use the most, such as the bedroom and living room. This will help with skin moisture retention as well as with breathing.
Keep Heating to a Lower Level
I like 19 degrees but anything between 20 and 22 is reasonable. Maybe program the heating to turn off at night, when you will already be snug under a duvet or blanket.
Avoid Hot Showers
While they feel great, hot showers will deplete your skin of its natural oils, so you should try to have lukewarm showers instead. When drying off, pat skin dry rather than rubbing. Lather well with moisturiser straight after, use hydrating shower or bath products - and feel free not to wash completely everyday, as this will help retain the natural oils on your skin.
Winter time exfoliation of skin is fine, just be gentle and do it only once a week. This will help clear the pores of all the dead skin, oil and dirt that have collected.
Use Lip Balm
Avoid chapped, dry lips by keeping a lip balm handy. I recommend choosing a balm that contains a nice moisturising oil such as jojoba, coconut or calendula.
Care for your Scalp and Hair
Your scalp needs winter care, too; you should hydrate it by using hydrating shampoos and conditioners. Rubbing a good quality oil such as olive oil or coconut oil into the scalp overnight a few times a week will also help with scalp health, but make sure to wash it out in the morning. And for your hair itself, a hair mask will help prevent your locks looking limp and lifeless.
Try Beauty Treatments and Masks
Winter is potentially a good time to have your aesthetic treatments done, such as chemical peels and dermabrasion, as you don't have to worry as much about sun exposure. Alternatively, you can do your own beauty treatments yourself. Hydrating face masks that you can do at home, for instance, will help keep your skin looking and feeling great.
You may not realise it but SPF is as important in the winter as it is in the summer. UVA has a long wavelength and accounts for 90% of all UV radiation reaching the Earth. Levels remain steady all year long and the UVA rays are not filtered by clouds or windows. UVA penetrates deeply i to the skin and is the cause of photoaging, photodamage, and some forms of skin cancer. Applying SPF of at least 15 on all exposed areas is suitable for winter time. And if it snows a lot where you live don't forget that snow reflects UV!
A healthy diet contains lots of fruit and vegetables - ideally seasonal. Keep up your intake of antioxidant foods - green tea instead of coffee, for example. Oily fish such as salmon or mackerel have omega oils which help replenish the fatty acids in your skin barrier. Make like a squirrel and eat more nuts and seeds such as flaxseed, as these contain essential fatty acids that contribute to your skin health.
Stick to a Good Winter Skincare Routine
It’s important to maintain a good skincare routine during winter as you would at any time of the year, though you may need to tweak it a little for the harsher conditions.
For example: when cleansing your skin in winter (first thing the morning and before bed) you should use a hydrating cleanser. Non-soap cleansers are ideal - maybe something cream or oil based. Avoid the foam based ones during winter. Toners and astringents tend to have alcohol in them, and this can dry the skin out - you can skip this step of your skincare routine in winter.
And when it comes to moisturising, rather than a lighter lotion which is better for the summer you should switch to a cream or ointment based moisturiser, and make sure you massage it in for around 30 seconds. Ceramides are essential for skin barrier function, so find a moisturiser with ceramides. Cerave products are ideal for this, as they have a patented slow release ceramide formula and some products also contain hyaluronic acid, which helps to plump out the skin. And of course, if your moisturiser does not have SPF, remember to apply this separately.
This may be a tougher winter than most. Remember to try and stay happy and as stress free as possible. We will all be indoors much more, so try and find indoor hobbies to do. Watch a series, read some books, keep in touch with family and friends. The whole team at Absolute Collagen, including myself, are here to help you be the best version of yourself so please do get in touch with us if you need.