Four Tips to Improve Your First Line of Defense Against Winter

Winter wreaks havoc on our skin...

Skin is our greatest protector. It establishes the physical barrier between you and the outside world. And during this time of year, it's constantly fighting against the weather.

In the winter, the air all around you is dry. Outside, the cold temperature condenses the air, leaving less room for water. As such, when the air around you warms from your body's heat, it pulls moisture from your skin.

Inside, the warmed air from your heating system may also be dry, further dehydrating your skin and the tissues that line your nose and throat.

Dry skin is uncomfortable. It can feel itchy, tight, and tender. And it can crack and bleed, making you more vulnerable to infection.

Inside your nasal passages, dry tissue becomes inflamed and doesn't produce enough mucous to trap the germs you breathe in, which increases your chance of getting a cold.

So this winter, take good care of your skin with these four tips that'll help lock in moisture...

Tip No. 1: Choose Your Clothes Wisely

Synthetic fabrics – like polyester and nylon – can make your dry skin much worse due to the chemicals and microorganisms they contain that can irritate your skin. They can also block the skin's ability to regulate its own water effectively.

A small study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology compared the skin-moisture content of people when wearing cotton or polyester pajamas while sleeping. The researchers found wearing cotton pajamas led to more water content in the skin cells, indicating a more balanced environment.

Merino wool is another popular clothing material choice. While studies show it may be less irritating for people who suffer from a dry skin condition called eczema, it does not significantly improve the hydration of skin.

So dress in layers this winter, keeping cotton closest to your skin. It absorbs moisture but doesn't wick it away like other fabrics, allowing your skin to stay better hydrated.

Tip No. 2: Change Up Your Shower Routine

Studies show that long, hot showers and harsh chemicals in soap – called surfactants­ – damage your skins cells and removes its natural oils, making it less able to retain moisture. Add abrasive toweling off to the mix, and your skin's even more irritated.

Do what I do and counteract these effects by taking warm (around 98 degrees F) – or colder – showers and using less soap. Choose a gentle, fragrance-free, moisturizing soap (like Dove or Cetaphil) that doesn't make your skin feel tight after you shower – which is a sign that it's dry. And if you usually shower every day, try every other day instead.

When you get out of the shower, pat your skin dry and apply an oil-based, moisturizing cream while your skin is still wet. The oil will provide a thick barrier on your skin that will keep its moisture in.

Avoid lotions because they're water-based and won't lock-in your skin's moisture as well as the oil-based product will. Instead, use a cream. Creams contain moisturizers known as occlusives – like jojoba and argan oil – that form a moisture barrier on the skin that prevent oil from escaping. You can tell if a moisturizer is water- or oil-based by looking at the first item on its ingredient list – it will either say "water" or a type of oil, like jojoba or argan oil.

And just like in soap, avoid fragrance in your moisturizers because they contain chemicals that evaporate easily and can take your skin's moisture with them.

Tip No. 3: Hydrate Your Home

Combat the dry air from your heating unit by using a humidifier at home. But the humidity inside needs to be carefully considered to prevent too much moisture in the home.

Otherwise, you may end up with condensation in areas that are less insulated from the cold outside – like your windows. And excessive condensation over time can lead to other, potentially toxic problems, like mold.

People with breathing conditions, like asthma, allergies, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), are even more sensitive to cold, dry air and warm, humid air because their airways secrete different concentrations of mucous and are more easily inflamed.

If you use a humidifier in your home, make sure to clean it every 3 days with white vinegar and warm water. Also change the filter every month and use fresh water every day. Use distilled or demineralized water in your humidifier to prevent bacterial growth in the machine.

Your home's relative humidity should be around 30% to 50%. The best way to measure humidity in your home is by using a device called a hygrometer. Some humidifiers have a built-in hygrometer, but you can also buy a hygrometer for around $10 to $15 from Amazon, Target, or Home Depot.

Tip No. 4: Hydrate Your Insides

Ingesting water from your foods and beverages is important for your overall health and hydration. Unfortunately, it won't do much to keep your skin from losing extra water in the winter.

But eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids will. That's because omega-3s help fortify the cellular walls throughout your body. Just like putting oil on your skin locks in moisture, putting omega-3s in your skin will keep you hydrated.

In fact, a study published in the Skin Pharmacology and Physiology journal found that eating half a teaspoon of flaxseed oil for 12 weeks improved participant's skin hydration by 39%.

So eat your omega-3s throughout the year in order to strengthen the cells that make up the moisture barrier in your skin so you're protected come winter. Some great ways to do this are by eating and cooking with:

  • Plant oils like olive, flaxseed, and walnut
  • Fish and seafood like salmon, mussels, and shrimp
  • Nuts like walnuts, almonds, and macadamia
  • Seeds like chia, pumpkin, and flaxseed
  • Vegetables like brussels sprouts, avocados, and spinach

Take charge and protect your skin from drying out this winter. By making small changes to your inside and outside environments, you can keep your skin healthy despite the dryness all around you.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
December 7, 2021