Almost every patient that I saw last week in my dermatology practice needed advice on winter skin care. They had dry skin; chapped hands, scaly arms and legs and some folks even had early signs of dry skin eczema (itchy red scaly patches). That's because.....
When the weather turns cold and you turn on your indoor heater, it’s time to start a good practice of hydrating skin care!
What are the 2 most important steps to heal dry skin with your winter skin care routine:
- Cleanse your skin without stripping all its natural oils
- Moisturize your skin immediately after cleansing with an effective product
These 2 steps are simple, the tricky part is knowing how to actually pick the right products and how to use them effectively.
First important step to heal dry skin is correct skin cleansing.
The first step to treating dry skin is cleansing without drying. We love clean and with a few cleansing ‘tweaks’ you can have really clean AND really moist skin.
Dry Skin Cleansing 101. The big point here is that you need to use mild cleansers, sparingly applied, and totally rinsed off entirely with warm water!
Harsh foamy soaps strip your skins protective natural oils. Hot water makes this worse in the same way it’s better for washing greasy dishes. As your skin loses its oils it becomes even more sensitive to drying out from contact with harsh soaps, more vulnerable to chapping from the weather and more likely to be irritated by harsh chemicals that you can normally tolerate like house cleaners. The end result is itchy, dry, chapped skin.
The best mild cleansers for your dry skin care:
- The many lovely glycerin rich soaps and soaps made from natural oils. These are available at specialty boutiques or natural food stores. My personal favorite is my Naturally Best Bar Soap. It is hypoallergenic and made with organic botanical oils. It is also economical and perfect for the entire family. This is the bar of soap in all my bathrooms! Calming Zinc Bar Soap is an olive oil based soap fortified with pyrithione zinc to fight winter flare ups of seborrhea and rosacea.
- pH balanced soapless cleansers can clean at a neutral pH. This is thought by some to be important for sensitive skin. Toleraine Cleanser is an excellent example of a non-foaming ‘soapless’ cleanser. Another option is Extremely Gentle Foaming Facial Cleanser. It cleans facial skin beautifully and gently foams away dirt, oil and debris. It is my personal favorite facial cleanser.
- Know Adding oil to a harsh foaming cleanser doesn’t compensate for its irritating effects so don’t be fooled by fancy claims. If your skin feels dry and tight after bathing then your cleanser is too harsh for you!
Importantly, all soaps and cleansers need to be rinsed completely off the skin using warm water. Avoid really hot water. Remember, hot water strips oils more that cooler temperatures.
Also, only apply soap to areas of your skin that need to be cleaned. These include the areas with body odor glands and a lot of oil glands. We all know where these are: the armpits, groin, buttocks and feet have body odor glands, oil production is greatest on the face, ears, upper chest and back.
Life Hack for Winter Skin Care: mild cleansers, applied where needed, and rinsed well with warm water! Cynthia Bailey, MD
Second important step for dry skin care to protect and heal skin is correct skin moisturizing.
Exposure to harsh winter weather and dry air makes using a skin moisturizer is a must!
Dry Skin Moisturizing 101. Even if you’re perfect at follow my cleansing recommendations in Part 1, you’re going to need GOOD moisturizers applied AT THE RIGHT TIME!
The big news here is timing and product quality.
Moisturizers work by holding water inside the layers of your skin right after you bathe. The water evaporates fast. You have to apply moisturizers within the magic 3 minutes after toweling off following bathing/washing your skin! Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey
Simple… but key.
Moisturizer product quality is more complicated than soaps and cleansers. The most effective moisturizers add oil, bind water and strengthen the skin barrier.
- Oil ingredients include petrolatum and mineral oil. You can also find products with natural and food-based oils including shea butter, jojoba oil and sesame seed oil to name a few. My favorite botanical options include my Natural Lotion, Natural Butter and Face Oils! My skin depends on these all winter.
- Water binding ingredients include glycerin (as in Daily Moisturizing Face Creams and Dry Skin Hand Cream), lanolin or wool alcohol (Bag Balm and Eucerin products), hyaluronic acid (as in the very popular product combo I call Layered Up Besties), and the alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s) which include lactic acid (Amlactin Cream) and glycolic acid (Glycolic Acid Face Cream and Glycolic Acid Body Lotion.
- Barrier strengthening ingredients work by tightening the outermost cell layer of the skin called the stratum cornium. They make the skin smooth and polished. My favorite barrier enhancing ingredients are the alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s). My elbows and knees are a great example of the power of AHA's, they are velvety soft after years of using Glycolic Acid Body Lotion. For the face, I like Glycolic Acid Face Cream (for all skin types). You need to know that AHA’s can be irritating to chapped skin. For chapped skin, moisturize for a month or two first with a gentle non-AHA moisturizer (such as Daily Moisturizing Face Creams, Nivea Cream or Dr. Hauschka’s Rose Body Moisturizer or Rose Day Cream) before you start using an AHA product.
I recommend that in the winter you use a heavy moisturizing product with a high oil content (except on areas of your skin that are acne prone). Apply a thin layer of your moisturizer immediately after you’ve bathed/washed your skin and toweled dry.
The best way to apply moisturizer is to put a small amount in one palm, briskly rub your palms together to warm and spread the moisturizer over the palm surface, pat the product over the general area to be covered, then rub it in well. Apply only what you can rub into the skin. There’s no need to feel greasy or sticky after moisturizing.
My favorite winter hydrating skin care moisturizer routines:
- For your hands: Wash with a glycerin soap and use Dry Skin Hand Cream after as many of your daily hand washings as possible. If your hands chap anyway, give them a hydrating drink with a heavy lanolin containing ointment like Bag Balm at bedtime and cover them with cotton gloves overnight.
- For your body: Use my Ultra Fast Body Smoothing Kit 2 or 3 times a week. For the other 4 or 5 days of the week wash with a glycerin soap and moisturize with a pure oil like jojoba oil or a heavy cream like Nivea or some other wonderful rich and creamy product that you’ve found.
- For your face: Wash with Calming Zinc Bar or Toleraine Cleanser then use Layered Up Besties twice a day. In the morning follow the Green Tea with Daily Moisturizing Face Cream for Oily to Normal Skin if your acne prone and the Daily Moisturizing Face Cream for Dry to Normal Skin if you’re not acne prone) then a zinc oxide sunscreen matched to your skin type. At night follow the Green Tea with your Daily Face Cream boosted to enrich the essential skin lipid replenishment with one of my Face Oils. You can do this with your antiaging skin care treatment products such as glycolic acid or retinol too.