Skin is an amazing thing. As the body's largest organ it protects us from heat and cold while holding in elements that we need (like water), and shields us from those we don't (ultraviolet light and germs). But when the barometer drops, all that can change. Cold winds coupled with dry indoor heat, hot showers, and low humidity sap moisture, leaving you with flaky, overly sensitized skin, brittle, lifeless hair, and chapped lips. But chilly temperatures alone aren't to blame. According to Jeanine Downie, a dermatologist in Mount Clair, New Jersey, and co-author of Beautiful Skin of Color, several other factors can exacerbate skin dryness.
- Genes: Maybe you have fewer oil glands than other women, or suffer from eczema, a hereditary disorder.
- Smoke: Yet another reason to stop smoking? Smoking is drying to the skin's surface.
- Hormones: As you age and estrogen production decreases, the skin produces fewer oils and cell turnover slows down, resulting in flakiness.
Protect Your Skin
Skin is made up of several layers, each performing a different task. The role of the uppermost layer, the stratum corneum, is to keep water in and irritants out. Dermatologists refer to it as skin's barrier -- the living equivalent of plastic wrap, shielding what's underneath from drying out. "The barrier is your skin's first layer of defense against external irritants like ultraviolet, heat loss, and cold. It needs to remain healthy and intact. When the skin's barrier function isn't right, we say it's compromised," says Alex Kowcz, vice president of U.S. research and development for Eucerin. "A compromised barrier is the reason behind most skin complications, including dry skin." Maintain healthy barrier function with a few simple steps.
Reduce lengthy, steamy showers. Make it quick (5 to 10 minutes) and lower the temperature from hot to warm.
Swap out drying soap and foaming cleansers for soap-free cleansers.
Don't over-scrub skin. To promote cell turnover, look for a gentle exfoliating wash.
Add a humidifier to your bedroom to restore moisture to hair, skin, and lips.
Nourish your lips with a balm containing petrolatum, shea butter, and glycerin. Beware of phenol and alcohol (they're drying) and methol, which can irritate lips.
Moisturize smart with a lotion that reinforces the skin's barrier.
Look for a moisturizer with:
Humectants such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and dimethicone, which bind water to skin's surface.
Emollients including triglycerides, oils (mineral, avocado, castor, and jojoba), and lanolin, which soften skin and reduce roughness.
Occlusives including fatty alcohols (including cetyl or cetearyle), waxes, and petrolatum, which create a seal to prevent water loss from skin.
But avoid drying ingredients: ethyl and methyl alcohol and fragrance.
- Shampoo less frequently. Daily cleansing strips hair of natural oils. Try shampooing every other day -- or wait even longer, if possible.
- Moisturize with hair cleansing products targeted at nourishing brittle locks.
- Blow-dry less often. Or lower the heat setting on the dryer.
- Limit the use of alcohol-based hair-styling products.
- Use a hair mask every other week to replenish strands.
- Stretch out the time between hair coloring treatments (which can be drying) with a color-depositing shampoo and conditioner.