The winds blow, the frost bites, and suddenly your face is parched. Its time to rehydrate.
By Nancy Davis
Ah, winter: pale blue skies, crusty snow underfoot, flaky puffs of white and the dry warmth of a cozy fireplace. It’s ironic that these same words describe the fate of my face. A few weeks in, and I’m dealing with parched cheeks, chapped lips, a dull complexion and one very scarlet nose. And while the red lip is au courant this season, that ruby hue isn’t so becoming on the area directly north of the mouth.
According to Dr. Lisa Kellett, dermatologist at DLK On Avenue in Toronto, the bleak state of our skin in the winter can be attributed to three factors: the drop in humidity, cold temperatures and wind. This triple treat causes water loss in the skin’s superficial layers, rendering it as scaly as a snakeskin purse. As if that wasn’t vexing enough, forced heat indoors takes things from bad to worse – skin absorbs moisture from its surroundings, so if your home is as arid as the Sahara, there is no oasis in your immediate future.
That said, we don’t have to just surrender to this biological imperative. In addition to keeping a humidifier at close quarters while you slumber, and opting for tepid water in the shower instead of hot, your most crucial mantra is “moisturize, moisturize, moisturize” – and make sure to pay particular attention to the vulnerable areas around the eyes and lips. While the skin itself does function as a protective barrier, we need to top up its defenses at this time of year.
Unless you wear a ski mask around town, your face is destined to contend with harsh conditions. Thankfully, skin is equipped with its own biological arsenal to face winter. Its natural oils (sebum and lipids) not only lubricate, they also trap moisture in the skin by forming a protective barrier. However, those living in climates with fluctuating humidity can become dehydrated and produce fewer lipids, which compromises skins protection and increases water loss, notes Holly Sherrard, education manager for the International Dermal Institute.
Before you crack open your moisturizer, ensure you aren’t stripping your skins when you cleanse. Opt for a creamy face wash and skip harsh toners, advises Dr. Mark Lupin, a dermatologist at Cosmedica Laser Center in Victoria. Oilier types can maintain their keep-shine-at-bay routine.
Now for your main ally. Moisturizers range from oil-based creams for dry skin to water-based lotions, and gels for combination and oily skin, and contain various concentrations of active ingredients. They work to integrate moisture into the skin and trap it there by forming a protective barrier.
Often, people with oily skin think it becomes dry in the winter, but it’s actually dehydrated, explains Sherrard. There is a difference – what they are experiencing is water loss; dry skin lacks moisture. To rehydrate, oily skin requires a formula that is slightly thicker – but still oil-free – that will boost the lipids needed to retain moisture. Dr. Kellett suggests sticking with a gel-based moisturizer but applying it more often.
Meanwhile, normal skin is best comforted with a cream moisturizer. “Most gels and lotions have water as their first ingredient. As you get to heavier products, you’ll notice more of the plant-based oils toward the top of the list,” explains Sherrard. Look for ingredients like shea butter, evening primrose oil and grapeseed to help rebuild the lipid barrier.
For positively parched skin deficient in oil, boost your plan of attack with a serum composed of active humectants that attract moisture to the skin to the skin-such as hyaluronic acid, which holds 1,000 times its weight in water. Follow-up with a heavyweight moisturizer to seal the skin with a mesh like-like barrier, advices Sherrard. Apply to damp skin a half-hour before venturing outside, to lock in those precious droplets. And while turtlenecks and scarves protect the neck, it’s a judicious move to slather the area with whatever you’re using on your face.
As for the red nose with its cracked skin (brought on by colds and dryness), Dr. Lupin recommends using specialty products on irritated areas. He points to Vaseline or a barrier cream – a heavier moisturizer that seals little cracks. For chapped trouble spots such as cheeks, face balms – often used by skiers – add a shield of lipid protection.
Then, lest we forget, there’s the sun. Even in the winter, we are exposed to UV rays through clouds, snow glare and even car and office windows. Dr. Kellett advocates daily application of an SPF 30 sunscreen under (yes, under) your moisturizer.
“If your feet are cardboard, your body construction paper and your face regular paper, then the skin around your eyes is tissue paper,” says Sherrard. Its delicate nature makes this area the most prone to inflammation, dehydration, fine lines, wrinkles and redness. And tears – whether they’re caused by frigid temperatures, the sniffles or the discovery of a new wrinkle – are slightly alkaline and can further dry out this sensitive zone. Treat it with kid gloves using extra-emollient eye cream for maximum protection. Be sure to guard the area from rubbing, snow glare and the sun – think of it as a good excuse to invest in those wrap around Chanel sunglasses.
No amount of lipstick or gloss is going to conceal a chapped mouth (due to a stuffy nose) leaves lips – already lacking in those much-needed oil glands – susceptible to dehydration. Buff lips with a gentle exfoliant, then coat them with a nourishing balm. Look for one with plant-based oils like cocoa butter and avocado, advises Sherrard.
“Always carry a lip balm” says Dr. Kellett – even better if it contains sunscreen, as sunburn is often mistaken for chapped lips. “You can also use it to ring around your eyes, on your lips and underneath your nose.”