No matter how old you are, everyone experiences winter itch at some point in their life. Most of us experience flaky, itchy, dry skin when the temperature drops and the air dries. Whether it's due to the cold winter winds, low humidity, dry air, moisture-stripping soaps, or winter-weather sunburn, I've got your seasonal cheat sheet to avoid the winter itch.
1. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize
Winter skin care comes down to adequate moisturization of the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin. This isn't about eight glasses a day. It's about finding the right moisturizer for your cold, dry winter skin. Winter is the time to switch from a lotion to a cream, as generally the thicker your moisturizer, the more intense the moisturizing effects. Scan the aisles for a product with ceramides, such as CeraVe, which can help restore the skin's natural protective barrier that may be damaged as a result of the dry cold winter weather. Staying moisturized in winter can soothe and protect skin and help prevent dry, itchy skin.
Just because its winter, doesn't mean you can toss your sunscreen. UVB rays might be weaker in winter, but UVA rays stay the same all year long. These rays can lead to wrinkles and skin cancer. You can accumulate the same sun damage from UVA rays in the winter as you can in the summer. So apply a sunscreen to exposed skin frequently to prevent your skin from getting dry and to protect it from harmful UV rays.
3. Winter acne - don't pop it!
Whether acne is your constant enemy or decides to show up randomly in winter, you can still win the fight against acne. Winter can be a tug of war between treating acne while still trying to keep your skin moisturized. Use an acne treatment with benzoyl peroxide, like AcneFree's Oil-Free Acne Cleanser, that also contains ceramides to help moisturize your skin while fighting acne bacteria. I love a dual purpose product!
4. Humidifiers to the rescue
Add a humidifier to your room at night to help with dry skin. Humidifiers help make dry air more comfortable by increasing the water vapour. It's basically a moisturizer for the air. During winter, as humidity levels drop, the cold air loses most of its moisture and becomes dry, in turn drawing moisture from your skin. A humidifier is a useful way to add moisture to air and help your skin feel more supple upon waking up - the true essence of a beauty sleep.
5. Lose the lip-licking
Lip-licking and lip biting is more likely to occur in winter when your lips are chapped. The problem is that both these acts continue the cycle of chapped, dry and damaged lips. Saliva is acidic and breaks down food as well as lip skin. Choose plain lips balms such as Vaseline - bland is best. To be sure these products are right for you, always read and follow the label.
6. Turn down the heat
While they may feel great to some of us, hot showers and baths can turn your skin into the Sahara desert! The heat opens your skin matrix and releases your natural moisturizers. So turn down the heat and keep your showers or baths to less than five minutes. Once done, pat dry and immediately apply moisturizer to damp skin to lock in the moisture.
Follow these six simple steps to keep your winter itch under wraps. Even when you're tight on time or too cold to move, dab on some moisturizer to protect yourself in the fight against the winter itch.
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Epsom salt baths are easy to prepare and can provide a lot of comfort during severe eczema flare-ups. Epsom salts are made of magnesium sulfate, which has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. To prepare an Epsom salt bath, simply add 1 to 3 cups of Epsom salt to your warm bath water and dissolve. You can also add drops of tea tree oil or essential oils (such as lavender) to your bath water. Soak in the tub for 10 to 15 minutes to allow your skin to absorb the magnesium and gain the full benefits of your bath.
Select an unscented soap that has few ingredients and is formulated for sensitive skin and eczema. Make sure to read all of the ingredients in the soap to ensure it doesn't contain any of your allergens, as nut oils and fruit extracts can be used. In my household, we skip the fancy expensive brands and use pure vegetable glycerin soap.
Selecting a moisturizer is one of the more difficult decisions to make. Lotions can help lock water into skin, repair damaged skin, reduce dryness and itching, and provide a barrier for the skin. Some products are "lipid-replenishing" or contain ceramide, which is a type of fat that occurs naturally in the skin's outer layer. There are also products that contain ingredients to help soothe the skin, such as oatmeal and essential oils. There are many products marketed specifically to people with eczema and they can be pricey, so try asking for samples from your doctor or drugstore to decide which product works best for you before you purchase a full bottle.
Timing is just as important as selecting the right skin cream. The best time to apply moisturizing cream is right after a bath or shower. Just pat your skin dry, apply any medicated creams to the spots where they are needed, then apply your lotion all over your body before your skin has the time to dry out completely. This after-bath treatment helps trap the moisture that has gotten into your skin while bathing.
Keep a travel-sized container of your moisturizer with you and apply lotion frequently to the areas where they are most needed, such as your hands, lips, and the crease of your arm or behind the knees. Apply moisturizer every time you wash your hands, and consider bringing your own travel-sized gentle hand soap to use when you are not at home, as the anti-bacterial hand soaps in public washrooms can be very harsh on your skin.
Keeping hydrated is one of the best ways to achieve healthy skin. Drink lots of water, and eat fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Reducing your caffeine and alcohol intake will also help.
Maintaining air humidity levels of at least 30 to 50 per cent is ideal for healthy skin. During the winter months you might need a humidifier inside your home to reach these optimal conditions, especially if you use forced-air heat. Some doctors may specifically recommend cool or a warm mist humidifier depending on your situation, but otherwise it's usually a matter of personal preference. Cool mist humidifiers are recommended in children's rooms as the steam from a warm mist humidifier could pose a safety hazard.
Cotton, bamboo and silk are the best fabrics for eczema, as they breathe easily and are soft, so they will not irritate the skin. Although wool is natural, it is best to avoid its stiff fibres that can irritate sensitive skin.
Wearing loose breathable fabrics won't make a huge difference if your clothing is washed in detergent that contains perfumes and dyes that can irritate sensitive skin. Use mild laundry detergents and rinse your clothes twice to clear away all traces of detergent. Avoid fabric softeners, because the fragrances can cause itching and redness.
Cut your nails regularly and remove any potentially sharp edges with a nail file. Eczema is extremely itchy and it's hard to stay disciplined and avoid scratching. Short nails will minimize the damage that light scratching can do to your skin. It also helps minimize the impact of scratching during your sleep.
Follow Julia Carroll on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drjuliacarroll