Prepping Your Skin for Winter, Part 1

In October, when the temperatures rarely dip below the 50s in Connecticut, Elaine Ficarra breaks out her gloves.It’s just one way she has found to help protect her already dry skin from cracking and causing her irritation and pain during the winter months ahead.

Daniella Duke, M.D., a dermatologist in Mystic, Conn., says Ficarra is right on target in preparing early for the drying effects of winter.”You should really start preparing for winter about a month before it hits. That means switching your cleanser to something a little milder, something that’s soap and perfume free — those products can irritate skin and dry it out. You should also start wearing a thicker moisturizer and covering your skin up with gloves, scarves, goggles if you’re skiing — to protect it from the wind and cold,” Duke said. “But you still need sunscreen every day.”

Sunblock, found in many moisturizers and foundations, is particularly important for those who are participating in outdoor activities such as skiing, Texas esthetician Bonnie Kirby pointed out.

“You really should be wearing sunscreen and lip balm with at least an SPF 30, or SPF 50 for people who are fair, because the UV rays reflect off the snow just like they do the water and sand. The rays bounce off the snow and ice and come right back up and burn you,” she said.

For those with sensitive skin irritated by sunscreen, Kirby suggests using a product that is zinc oxide based.

Turn Down the Heat
What you don’t need in the winter is a lot of baths — especially hot ones. Hot water and frequent bathing only further dry out the skin at a time when central heat and dry air are already sucking out the moisture, says Duke, who also teaches laser skin surgery at Yale University.

Cleansing your face with hot water is a particularly bad idea for people with acne-prone skin. “It makes your sebaceous glands think the skin is dry, so it starts overproducing oil, which of course, leads to a breakout,” Kirby said.

Instead, Duke suggests a cool bath of no longer than 15 minutes every other day. To help tolerate the tepid water on a cold day, just heat up the bathroom a little more than usual. And when you get out, apply a thick, but oil-free, moisturizer all over your body.

“But be sure to just pat your skin dry, don’t rub it, and then immediately put the cream on to keep the moisture in,” said Kirby, an adviser to the American Aestheticians Education Association.

Immediacy is the key, according to Duke, who says if you wait 15 or 20 minutes to apply moisturizer it won’t get any further than the top layer of skin and, ultimately, not do you much good.