Winter. It can be a tough time of year, and even with Christmas and New Year thrown in, a very ‘blue’ period.
Short days and dark mornings can be difficult, especially for sufferers of Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD), who struggle with so few daylight hours.
Curiously, it seems the lack of light may also have an effect on our skin quality. There’s also a school of thought that reduced levels of vitamin D may also play a role in the syndrome, called ‘winter dry skin’.
What we do know is that both men and women will notice more flaky, powdery skin on their lower legs during winter. Many years ago, one of my former colleagues looked at seasonal changes on facial skin and demonstrated it became drier in winter. But before all you out there with oily skin relax, you don’t escape. He showed that for this skin type the microscopic flakes and scales are just hidden by the oils!
There may well be other factors creating winter dry skin. For starters, you’re more likely to have central heating or radiant fires blasting in winter, which will directly dry your skin.
In my other articles on moisturisation and hypersensitive skin, you may remember that the outer layers of the skin need a narrow range of hydration to keep desquamation under control (this is the technical term for our skin flaking off!).
Here’s the science. Too little or too much hydration inhibits the enzymes responsible for breaking down the connections between the surface cells. If these connections don’t get broken down the surface cells hang around too long. They eventually come off in larger visible clumps instead of the normal and invisible single cell by cell.
So this is why if you stay out in the cold too long or in the hot bath too long you can wind up with scaly skin. The obvious conundrum is – what should I do for the best, as I love a hot bath in the winter? (That’s my wife’s dilemma not mine by the way!)
Well, my advice to her and to you is – losing a few cell layers is not all bad as the skin ages; think of it as cheap exfoliation, but ONLY if you ensure the drying effect isn’t made worse. Try to avoid using too much bubble bath and opt for an emulsifying or normal bath oil instead, and use a richer body moisturiser when you’re dry.
There are other reasons why your skin feels drier in winter. We all suffer from coughs and colds and often end up with red noses surrounded by patches of flaky inflamed skin.
Two things you should know:
- First, inflamed skin becomes more flaky as a result of the inflammation – double whammy!
- Second, you can do something about it.
Here’s my all-time surprising recommendation for moisturising the areas around your nose in winter. It’s actually from another ex-colleague who happened to have a cold while she was breastfeeding one of her children. Being a cosmetic scientist, she knew the link between the sore skin around her nose and cracked nipples – drying and inflammation being the common causes.
What I’m trying to tell you is… nipple cream addresses the cause of scaling and happy noses are the result!
So a cream designed to create a good barrier, intensively moisturise and soothe cracked skin will reduce water loss, keeping your desquamation enzymes functioning well, improving the barrier and stalling the skin barrier damage/inflammation downward spiral.
If you don’t want to go as far as buying nipple cream from the maternity section, you can always swap your day cream for a night cream; again the more intensive action will help alleviate dry winter skin and even sore noses.
There is a related problem that’s worth bringing up here.
When the skin barrier is damaged, the cells at the surface release chemical signals to send a message to the layers below. Even in the absence of red inflamed skin, these messenger molecules trigger responses in the dermal cells and blood vessels below.
The result is something called winter itch, and it is more common in older people. The worse this becomes, the higher the risk of cracks and fissures in the skin.
As if this isn’t bad enough, the cold weather makes the skin barrier less flexible and the protective lipids in your skin harden! So the risk of skin surface breakage is increased by another route; a triple whammy for skin in winter.
Let’s face it, our skin is just not evolved to hack it. We’ve invented ways to cope with it – from sheep-skin care to cheap skincare via lanolin, glycerin and other materials. Thanks to technology (and common sense) we’ve found many ways to ward off the effects of winter and make up for the deficiencies of skin in cold weather.
Dry skin causes the light to bounce off it unevenly, creating a dull effect and making fine lines and wrinkles more noticeable. Add to this that when your skin gets cold the blood supply to the surface can get cut off, making you less rosy.
The overall result is a much duller, paler skin, which some of you may find a tad dull itself.
Don’t panic though, as once again you can do something about it. Intensive moisturisation will help reduce the dullness – apologies if I’m repeating myself, but try switching to using a more intensive night cream during the cold dull days. You can even use a bit of tinted moisturiser to get the colour back in your cheeks. I don’t believe in using SPF on days when you hardly seen the sun!.
Winter is tough on our skin, but the answers are there.