Moisture is the key to healthy skin all year long and especially during the winter months. In fact, you need to take special care of your skin over winter. Cold, dry air outside and warm, dry, air inside, both serve to sap the moisture out of the air and cause dry winter skin.
The answer is not just simply to lather on more moisturizer, although moisturizers have their place. In order to create optimal skin, you need to keep hydrating and moisturizing from the inside out, which can do a lot to keep your skin comfortable and elastic during cold winter months.
1. Omega-3 Fats: Omega-3 fats are excellent for overall cardiac and joint health, but did you know that they could also zap dry skin woes as well? Omega-3’s can restore significant oil and comfort to the skin. Good food sources are salmon, sardines, walnuts and flaxseed. You can also take a daily supplement of 1,000 to 3,000 milligrams.
2. Water: Our bodies need a constant supply of fresh water to stay well hydrated and support all of our organs, especially our skin. Internal dehydration is one of the main causes of dry skin, so make sure you are drinking the right amount of water. In general, minimum intake should be 1 gallon of water per day. Some researchers recommend more if you are sweating from exercise or other conditions; 91 ounces per day for women and 107 ounces for men.
3. Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a “skin health” vitamin. It helps build collagen in the skin that keeps the skin tight yet elastic. Good sources are citrus fruits, but you should also include a high-potency Vitamin C supplement of about 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams a day.
4. Vitamin A: Vitamin A deficiency can result in dry skin, especially in winter. Make sure you are getting enough beta carotene (the precursor from which your body makes its own Vitamin A) in yellow vegetables and fruits such as squash, cantaloupe and carrots. Make sure your daily supplement contains beta carotene as well.
5. Vitamin D: This amazing workhorse vitamin does a lot for optimal health. It also helps to create healthy skin and prevent and cure dry skin, even psoriasis. Especially in the winter months, we do not get enough sunlight exposure to give us adequate Vitamin D. If you have chronic dry skin that gets worse in winter, you might be deficient in Vitamin D. It also helps process Vitamin A and C, the other skin health vitamins. A Vitamin D deficiency can be determined by a simple blood test. Meanwhile, a minimum of 1,000-2,000 milligrams of Vitamin D3 a day will remedy this. If you are over age 50, and do not drink D-fortified dairy products, you may need even more (up to 5,000 milligrams a day).
Moisturizers and Other Skin Comfort Tips
You don’t have to invest in expensive moisturizers to help remedy dry, itchy winter skin. Your corner pharmacy likely has a good stock of different brands of inexpensive skin moisturizers you can use on your entire body. Here’s what to look for:
1. Oil-based Products: Look for a primarily oil-based product for winter use as opposed to water based, which work better in spring and summer months. Don’t forget the old staples of baby oil or baby lotion. These work as well as more expensive “beauty products” marketed for dry skin.
2. Moisture Attractors: If you want to invest in some of the more high-end products, look for ones that contain “humectants” like sorbital, alpha-hydroxy acids or glycerine that help keep moisture in the skin. Make your winter soap one with olive oil or glycerine that won’t dry it.
3. Kitchen/Medicine Chest Remedies: You can make your own inexpensive, excellent skin moisturizers using a few natural products you may already have in your kitchen or bathroom cabinet. Some of my favorites are extra virgin olive oil, sunflower oil, mineral oil and glycerine. You may want to refrigerate a bit of the oil for your specific skin use, which not only helps keep the oils fresh, but the coolness also feels great on your skin.
4. Lukewarm Bath: Though a hot bath may sound good after being out in the cold, a lukewarm water bath is better for your skin. Adding some baby oil and/or colloidal oatmeal (available at most pharmacies) or glycerine to it can also help overly dry skin. Use a moisturizer after your bath to lock water against the skin.
5. Add a Humidifier: If your furnace is compatible, add on a humidifier. It’s well worth the extra expense to keep your home comfortable with a good moisture level. Or, you can place small electric humidifiers throughout your house. It’s important to increase the comfort levels in bedrooms and living rooms — the places you spend the most time.
Even though dry, itchy, chapped skin can be uncomfortable, take heart. You can banish winter skin! With these simple and inexpensive remedies, you’ll find your winter skin becomes a whole lot easier to live in.
Dr. Jay Brachfeld, M.D., is a board certified dermatologist. He received his medical degree from University at Buffalo, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and has been in practice for more than 20 years.