Smooth operator: 5 dermatologist-approved tips to prevent dry winter skin

Apr 19, 2021
The thicker the moisturiser, the more it helps create a moisture barrier on the surface of the skin. Source: Getty

Autumn and winter are tough times of year for the body’s largest organ: the skin. Inevitably our skin gets drier and flakier and can then become quite itchy. Clearly the change of seasons play a role but there are other factors to consider.

As we see more birthdays, our skin doesn’t hold moisture like it used to. This is because our skin volume decreases, making the ‘barrier’ thinner, and it doesn’t make as many natural moisturising factors to keep the skin naturally well moisturised. All of this also makes our skin more easily affected by environmental factors.

Culprits: Heating, hotter showers and saunas
In winter, our skin is drier because there’s less natural moisturiser (humidity) in the air compared with summer. On top of this, because it’s cold, we often have wood fires or electric heating going, which dry out our skin even more. Unfortunately, those hotter, longer showers or baths we tend to have in winter only dry out the skin further, and while a sauna might seem like a great idea on chilly days, the prolonged heat and steam strip the natural moisturising factors from the skin, leaving it much drier and more dull.

There are simple strategies to follow to look after your skin in winter, as prevention is the best ‘cure’:

1. Take shorter showers and baths that aren’t too hot. The longer the bath or shower and the hotter the water you use, the more natural oils and moisture will be stripped from your skin.

2. Avoid traditional soaps. These contain detergents that are designed to liquify and remove the daily build-up of grime and oils on the skin but will also strip the good natural moisturising factors from the skin. There are a lot of soap-free alternatives out there in supermarkets, pharmacies and health stores. Perhaps try one that doesn’t contain sodium lauryl sulfate, as this is the ingredient that makes shampoos and soaps lather up into thick bubbles but can also be drying on the skin – especially during winter.

3. Moisturise with a thick cream after every shower. During winter, I recommend a thick cream, oil or even an ointment after each shower/bath. This is because your skin needs a lot more help to stay moisturised in winter. The thicker the moisturiser, the more it helps create a moisture barrier on the surface of the skin, as well as a sustained delivery of moisturising factors into the skin. Both of these will help support the skin to be the best it can be during winter.

There are a plethora of products available these days, such as shea butter, lanolin, coconut oil, as well as simple traditional glycerine. All of these will do the job, provided they are a thick consistency. (Starts at 60’s Sassy Marketplace has a range of hydrating face, body and hand moisturisers and body washes that are tried and tested.)

On the other hand, lighter lotions, gels and creams tend to contain too much water and rely on evaporation to deliver their moisturising factors. Unfortunately this means that — for most people — they are not effective enough in winter to support the skin. On the other hand, these products may work well during the humid summer months.

4. Salicylic acid. For those who suffer from cracked hands and feet in winter, a thick moisturiser is key. But interspacing this with a hand balm or heel balm containing salicylic acid will help reduce skin thickening. It will also make the skin more pliable and decrease the chance of developing painful cracks and splits.

5. Gloves and socks to bed. Applying moisturiser to hands and feet and then popping on cotton gloves and socks before bed can help deliver moisturiser through thickened or cracked skin (as well as decrease the loss of moisturiser on the bedsheets themselves). It also means you’ll wake up to smoother, softer skin!

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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Which moisturiser is your your tried-and-tested favourite each winter?

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