by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner
Cold weather outside and dry heat indoors can be the cracking point for our skin. Nourish this largest organ of the body with these moisturizing remedies. Some might even surprise you …
A little itchy skin doesn’t seem like a big issue. However, that dryness left unattended can lead to cracked surfaces, which bleed and are exposed to bacteria. Suddenly, you have an opening for countless infections from the rhinovirus (common cold) to Staph. The latter can become severe and require prescription medication and possibly even surgery if it’s on one of the digits.
Consider a typical cut from a minor injury. Common sense has you clean the wound and attach a bandage. Often, an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment is recommended. Now, imagine if you followed such diligence with cracked, chapped skin. It’s simply not practical, although probably just as warranted. Here’s where a little prevention is well worth the investment.
Slow Down at the Sink
Many follow the obligatory hand-washing. Many do it incorrectly. After lathering for 30 seconds (about long enough to sing Happy Birthday twice), rinse and completely dry hands. As the great multitaskers we’ve become, we often rush away with almost dripping wet hands. A quick swipe on the towel and let the air do the rest. We may get moving quicker, but pay a price.
My daughter continuously reminds me to finish drying. She shakes a scolding, but delicately soft finger, at my rough hands, which look about 20 years beyond my age. This small but neglectful habit leads to chapped skin, especially in cold air. (And premature aging, or the look of it.)
If you’re an individual who is attempting to introduce mindfulness into your life, consider this a perfect opportunity. Meditate on the act of washing and drying your hands. Your healthy skin could be the result of an entirely new level of awareness. Pump on some hand lotion to complete.
For more tips on proper hand-washing, check out “Build up Your Defenses” (www.fitnessandwellnessnews.com/health/build-up-your-defenses, September 10, 2010).
Hurry Up in the Shower
Although submerged in water, a bath actually is drying to the skin. Showers are not as dehydrating, but should be kept short and (I hate to relay this) less steamy. The body produces natural oils. Washing scrubs off these oils, leaving your skin more susceptible to dryness and environmental damage.
Use mild soap for the body, preferably without antibacterial properties. Using an antibacterial soap on the entire body can be harsh. Save it for hand-washing; use one with added moisturizers to counteract the germ-killing ingredients. A moisturizing body wash is ideal. Try to avoid strongly fragranced products, which can be harsh on the skin and increase itching associated with chapping. Use soft cloths cleaned in mild laundry detergent. Avoid highly alkaline soaps and detergents.
As with hand-washing, thoroughly pat yourself dry. Don’t drag the towel over your skin like you’re sandpapering. (You know who you are, likely the same ones who swipe and run at the sink.) While still damp, apply a thick body cream to seal in your own natural emollients, along with any remaining water. Again, highly fragranced lotions can often defeat your efforts, leaving you drier and itchier than without.
Exfoliate your skin a few times monthly with sea-salt scrub. This helps remove dead layers of skin so you can hydrate where it counts. After, apply a rich cream. However, when struggling to cure chapped, sore skin avoid exfoliating. With open cuts and raw spots, it can increase irritation.
If the idea of a lukewarm shower of only 10 minutes leaves you chilly, other tips in this article can compensate for an extra-long soak.
Add a Little Rainforest
Install a house humidifier. This releases moisture into the air each time your forced-air heat turns on. (If you have hot water heat, relish in the nice snug warmth it produces.) You also may find a humidifier decreases your incidents of colds and respiratory infections. Keeping the air moist helps the airway passages avoid drying. Dry nasal membranes and throat provide a more welcome environment for bacteria.
If a whole house humidifier isn’t feasible, you can purchase single units. Definitely use one in your bedroom. Keep the door shut, and breathe in comfortable air throughout the night. Also, reduce your house thermostat setting to a lower temp. Just a few degrees lower can make the environment a lot less dry. Your throat will be less parched and sore, your skin will be happy, and your hair and clothes won’t be a scientific example of extreme static cling.
It’s that time of year when we dream by the fire, or so it’s sung. Keep in mind this toasty experience also toasts the skin. As tempting as it feels, try to keep your distance from the fireplace and limit your time in the area. It may offer a convenient excuse to head to the kitchen for a little cookie or small treat. So, it’s not all bad.
Drink in the Moisture
Hydrate your body, including your skin, throughout the day by drinking water. The average recommendation is to consume about eight 8-ounce glasses daily. After walking in the winter wonderland, you may be inclined to pour a mug of hot cocoa, coffee, or tea. Keep in mind caffeinated beverages dehydrate your system. This includes hot cocoa because chocolate has properties that mimic caffeine. Although they feel good going down, they can dry your skin from the inside. Alcohol has the same dehydrating effect. For every alcoholic or caffeinated beverage you enjoy, follow up with a full glass of water. Consider warming up with a mug of hot apple cider or herbal tea.
Sunscreen & Sunglasses Aren’t Just for Summer
Ultraviolet rays from the sun don’t take a vacation. You can still get sunburn in cold weather, which really dries out skin as well as increases your risk of wrinkles and skin cancer. Apply a moisturizer that contains UV protection before spending time outdoors, including when shoveling snow, waiting for a daily commuter train, or performing winter sports. Any exposed areas should be slathered with SPF 30 or higher. Remember to protect your lips and surrounding area, which are especially sensitive to cold weather.
Sunglasses and gloves should be an easy grab away. Consider keeping a pair in your vehicle or briefcase so they are readily available, regardless of where your day takes you. The skin around the eyes is delicate and easily stung by windy, cold days. Also, a blanket of white snow reflects sun rays, giving as much reason to squint as a bright day at the beach. Wear gloves but don’t allow your hands to overheat in them. Sweating removes essential fatty acids from your skin, which dehydrates. You’ll be sweating away your efforts.
Choose clothing made of cotton or silk to avoid irritation. It only takes one itchy wool item to rub dry skin the wrong way. Before you know it, you’ll be scratching, flaking, and bleeding. Sounds unpleasant, and surely it is.
Exercise & Eat Well
Consistent exercise promotes good circulation, which nourishes your skin. An invigorating workout often results in a restful night’s sleep, allowing your entire body, skin included, to rejuvenate. Complemented with a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, your skin will radiate a healthy glow.
Yogurt helps keep skin soft and supple. Eaten, its zinc content can clear skin blemishes. It can also be used as a cleansing mask. Combine it with lemon juice, refrigerate, and massage into hands to notice visible improvement of dry skin. Don’t be fruity. Go for the plain yogurt when trying these external applications.
Let your efforts at fitness shine through. Healthy skin can reveal a healthy body.
“8 Reasons for Dry, Itchy Skin in Fall and Winter,” by Beth W. Orenstein at www.everydayhealth.com.
“Prevent Dry Skin as You Age,” by Beth W. Orenstein at www.everydayhealth.com.
“Top Ways to Moisturize Dry Skin,” by Beth W. Orenstein at www.everydayhealth.com.
“Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?” at wwww.mayoclinic.com.
“Yogurt …Another Beauty Food,” by Shirley Bragg at www.about.com.
Bundled (introductory photo): www.flickr.com/photos/bfsminid/4285697707/
Bath towels and sponges: www.flickr.com/photos/horiavarlan/4263202587/
Tea cup: www.flickr.com/photos/waferboard/3203256457/