- Many skin conditions may flare up in winter, which can be uncomfortable and even painful
- There are several factors that can cause skin to be drier in winter
- Hydration and controlling indoor temperature is key to a healthier winter skin
If you suffer from dry, itchy patches of skin on your face, flaky, cracking skin between your fingers and red, painful toes, you are not alone.
Winter conditions are often not kind to our skins and can lead to uncomfortable, downright painful flare-ups of skin issues, especially if you tend to suffer from psoriasis or eczema. Here are the most common factors that contribute to dry skin in winter, and what you can do to alleviate it.
1. You are cranking up the temperature inside
As the winter chill sets in, you might want to feel cosier indoors by switching on the heater, stoking the fireplace or grabbing an electric blanket. These indoor heating sources can dry out the air inside your house, which does not only dry out your mucous membranes, but also your skin.
If you tend to expose your hands and feet directly to a fire or heater, especially after they have been exposed to cold air, you can also set yourself up for chilblains – a condition also known as pernio, which causes painful inflammation of small blood vessels that leads to itching, swelling, redness and blisters on your hands and feet.
What you can do: Switch the heater to the lowest setting and use a humidifier inside your house to regulate the moisture levels in the air. Even when tempted, keep cold fingers and toes away from an open fire or heater, as this may damage the blood vessels. Stay hydrated and use a protective moisturiser for your face and body.
2. You are taking long, hot showers or baths
A long, hot bath or shower sounds glorious when there is a cold snap, but unfortunately, it is not so blissful for our skins. The more your skin is exposed to hot water, the more it disturbs the protective lipid barrier which keeps its moisture levels intact.
What you can do: Shower or bathe in warm, not hot, water and limit your water use – keeping the dam levels in South Africa in mind. Use a gentle, fragrance-free shower oil to add extra moisture to your skin or add essential oil to your bath.
3. You are washing your hands more than ever
If you are trying to protect yourself from colds and flu, you might find yourself scrubbing your hands more than usual. Add Covid-19 to the mix, and your hands might be suffering the consequences.
According to Dr Anjali Mahto, a consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation, repeated use of soaps, detergents and alcohols, especially with the recommended alcohol percentage of 70% or more, can damage proteins in the upper layer (stratum corneum) of the skin. This affects the lipid barrier of the skin – the layer of fat that essentially locks moisture in – and reduces your skin’s capability of binding and retaining water molecules, causing loss of moisture.
What you can do: Swap fancy, heavily fragranced hand washes for mild soap. Keep a fragrance-free, rich hand cream with ingredients such as glycerine and shea butter near the basin and moisturise your hands after each wash. Take care not to wash your hands in scalding hot water. Warm water is good enough to be effective. Don’t pick at flaking, itchy patches, as this may cause painful cracks that might become infected.
4. You are not using body lotion
You may be covered in clothes from head to toe and therefore think that using moisturiser all over your body is not necessary, but even if your arms and legs are not on display, your skin can still become flaky and itchy.
What you can do: Get into the habit of slathering on a fragrance-free, protective body lotion after every shower. Ingredients such as glycerine trap moisture inside the skin and heal the protective barrier that gets compromised from being exposed to cold air.
5. You are not drinking enough water
The thought of chugging on a bottle of water while it’s cold might send shivers down your spine, but moisturising your skin from the inside is just as important as from the outside. Even if you are not sweating as much as in summer, you still lose water, especially if you spend a lot of time indoors, where the temperature is turned up.
What you can do: Swap coffee for caffeine-free herbal teas for a warm, yet refreshing drink. Add lemon juice to warm water. Vegetable-based soups can also aid hydration.
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