When winter comes you need to change your routine to help keep your skin healthy. [Photo: Bigstock]

Q&A: What’s the best way to winter-proof my skin?

28 November, 2013

Q – Every winter it is the same: my lips chap, my skin gets dull and dry. What can you suggest to help win the battle against winter skin?


A – Winter has a noticeable effect on our skin often leaving it dry, patchy and with an uneven tone. We like to think that the cooler weather will bring a rosy glow to our cheeks but in reality the wind, rain and cold all take their toll. But so do some of the things we do to keep warm, like having the central heating cranked up high and being more sedentary. Studies suggest that the effect that winter has on skin can make us look up to 5 years older.

For some people, the problem of ‘winter skin’ is worse than just a general tight, dry feeling. The effect goes beyond just flaking or chapping to triggering more serious condition like eczema.

The weather outside may be frightful (at least here in the Northern hemisphere – though our Aussie readers will get there soon enough!) but that doesn’t mean your skin has to be. Here’s some skin-saving advice to help keep your skin glowing in the depths of a dark winter.

Be gentle The harsh chemicals used in many conventional beauty products can dry and irritate your skin – and you may feel it more when the weather is working against you. People who have particularly dry skin – or conditions such as eczema or psoriasis – should look for alternatives to soap and detergents since these remove more oil from the skin’s protective layer. Don’t be tempted to exfoliate or use skin peels since this can quickly dry skin out.

Think moisture Frigid temperatures, indoor heat and high-speed winds can cause major skin dryness. It’s important to replace the moisture in your skin to ease discomfort, flaking and itching.  Apply cream or lotion immediately after bathing while your skin is still damp in order to lock in moisture. Or add a few drops of a rich base oil like avocado or coconut oil to palms before applying your favourite moisturiser. For a skin boost, try a homemade facial mask like our make at home, deeply moisturising Avocado and aloe vera facial mask.

Think hydration Drinking water may have no direct effect on skin, but its benefits for your overall health will be reflected in your skin. Keeping hydrated will help your body flush out accumulated toxins and keep your kidneys working well. Avoid dehydrating drinks like alcohol and those containing caffeine and remember that you can get water from eating plenty of fruits and vegetables too (and these also contain skin boosting vitamins and minerals in easily assimilable form).

Exercise Regular exercise is good for the body and mind but it is also a great way to maintain healthy circulation – all of which will be reflected in your skin. Take regular walks in the fresh air and remember to breathe! If you go to a gym that has a sauna make good use of it as a all over skin treat after your workout.

Nourish from the inside out A healthy diet is reflected back to you as healthy skin. A diet rich in unprocessed whole foods fruit and veg has been shown to help give skin a healthy glow. In addition to ensuring you are getting all the right vitamins and minerals don’t skimp on the essential oils. Essential fatty acids such omega 3 are good for general health, and may help play a role in supporting the skin’s barrier function. One of the best dietary sources of omega-3 in the diet is oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna, sardines and herring, though there are also good plant sources of omega-3 oils. You might also consider supplements  or get creative in the kitchen with healthy oils like hempseed or avocado. For instance, try tossing steamed vegetables in a little omega-3 rich oil rather than butter or add a tablespoon of your favourite to smoothies or soups. Remember also that sprouted seeds and beans are a great way to get super fresh and super potent nutrients into your body during winter so consider turning a corner of your kitchen or a windowsill into an indoor winter garden.

Change the atmosphere You can use a humidifier to offset the very dry indoor air created by fires, furnaces and radiators. But you don’t always need to resort to hi-tech solutions. In dry offices or home try using a soothing facial spritzer or facial mist to help offset the effects of dry air.

Change your bathtime routine. Contrary to popular belief, prolonged contact with water can actually dry skin out. Keep showers and baths short and consider dropping the temperature from hot to warm to avoid drying out your skin even more. The odd long hot soak won’t kill you but habitual hot baths can strip protective oils from the skin. Patting instead of rubbing your skin dry will reduce dryness, too. Throw a handful of baking soda into a lukewarm bath to help relieve the itchiness that sometimes comes with winter skin. Or have an oatmeal bath. Fill the foot of a pair of old tights with a couple of handfuls of (preferably organic) oatmeal and tie it off at the top. Place it in your warm bath and squeeze periodically to let the goodness of the oats out. The creamy substance you squeeze out of your oat bag is a good natural cleanser as well, so if your skin is very dry consider using this instead of soap.

To SPF or not? If you spend all day in an office then slathering on an SPF is a waste of time and money (and if it’s not organic is probably adding unnecessary chemicals to your body). But if you are outdoors in highly reflective environments like snowy mountains a good SPF is essential. All the better if it combines a good moisturiser as well.

Dark circles? Your eyes can take a beating during the winter. On top of the colder weather, lots of festive partying, a little too much alcohol and too little sleep can really bring out the dark circles. Remember also that you are not getting much vitamin D from the sun this time of year and this can contribute to a cycle of poor sleep and dark circles under the eyes. Try supplementing with vitamin D – liquid formulations are quickly and easily absorbed – to help win the battle of the bags.

A helping hand The skin on your hands is thinner than on most parts of the body and has fewer oil glands. That’s why it can be so hard to keep your hands moist, especially when the weather is working against you. Remember to wear gloves when you go outside. If wool feels itchy on your skin try using a thin cotton or silk glove liner for extra warmth and comfort. Winter can also play havoc with your nails; see our feature Strong, healthy nails for ways to help.

Don’t forget your lips… The first thing most of us do when our lips feel dry is lick them in order to feel comfortable again. But the benefit is temporary and can end up drying and irritating lips even more. Apply a good quality lip balm regularly, when you are indoors and especially when you go out. Look for those based on vegetable oils and waxes and without unnecessary preservatives (which can irritate the delicate skin around your mouth). See our feature Kiss those chapped lips goodbye for more.

…or your feet. Winter can stress your feet too. Dry winter air can aggravate already dry skin on your heels, which can lead to painful cracking of the skin. See our feature 5 tips for happy feet for more tips on taking care of your feet.