You know it when you feel it. It usually starts in December. Your skin becomes flaky, irritated, and itchy. Sometimes your legs itch so fiercely that you break the skin scratching with your fingernails. Hair becomes fly-away. Nose bleeds are more common. You know it is winter.
Winter air is dry. The physics is simple: Heat expands, cold contracts. Cold-air molecules are closer together and do not hold as much moisture as faster-moving warm-air molecules. Indoor living adds insult to injury as most furnaces churn out forced-air heat. All of these dry environmental conditions draw the moisture right out of your skin.
You cannot change the weather so the answer is to cope as best you can. You can conquer the problem with a few simple reminders.
1. Moisturize from the inside out: drink plenty of water throughout the day. This is so helpful and yet it is one of the most overlooked solutions to the problem. Eat more watery fruits and vegetables and healthy fats found in raw nuts.
2. Add moisture to the air. You can use a humidifier, but just placing a wet towel on the bedroom doorknob while you sleep produces enough evaporative moisture to increase your comfort level. Keep open pans of water in rooms to evaporate naturally into the air. If you steam up the bathroom, don’t turn on the exhaust fan but open the door and let moisture migrate into surrounding areas. Keep a layer of water in the kitchen sink at all times.
3. Avoid long hot showers and baths. Long immersion in hot water removes natural protective skin oils. If you just can't skip your nightly soak, add a few tablespoons of emollients to your bath water, such as olive oil or oatmeal. Colloidal oatmeal, which is ultra-finely ground oatmeal, works best. Whir it up in your Cuisinart if needed.
4. Avoid harsh soaps, which often include deodorant, antibacterial, and heavily fragranced soaps. These soaps are appealing because they make mounds of lather (the better to remove the skin’s protective oils, my dear) and leave you feeling squeaky clean. Squeaky clean and dried out. Natural hand-made soap is best to relieve itchy skin. Countless victims of itchy skin have scratched the winter away until they discovered the skin-soothing qualities of mild hand-made soap.
5. Replace your shaving cream with hair conditioner. Yes, that's right. Conditioner is less drying and it's inherent moisturizers will well, condition, your skin. Besides, a bottle of conditioner usually lasts three times as long as your accompanying shampoo, so it is cost effective as well.
6. Avoid irritating scrubbing brushes during a bout of dry skin. Scrubbing your feet may be useful, but many people also scrub their limbs and trunk as if they had just emerged from a year in the coal mines. Be gentle. And pat yourself dry; don’t rub.
7. Moisturize. Of course. Slather on oils or thick cream moisturizer while your skin is still damp from the shower. Give it a minute to soak in, and then massage it into the skin. This is also the time to lavish your face at night with oil-based serums. Your skin will feel soft and smooth in the morning.
8. Wear long socks or tights. Covering up the lower portion of your legs prevents moisture from escaping into the cold air at your feet. Really. Trust me.
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It appears we are resigned to wearing masks longer than we ever anticipated. Mask-wearing medical workers learned long ago the challenges associated with keeping skin healthy. Maskne is the term given to this new set of skin problems. Before the pandemic, helmet-wearing athletes were frequently afflicted with this condition.