Winter weather, high altitude, and an uptick in hand-washing can all lead to dry, cracked, and irritated skin. Carla Torres-Zegarra, M.D., Society for Pediatric Dermatology, Assistant Professor of Dermatology and Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado, shared her tips to keep your family’s skin moisturized and glowing this season.
Frequent hand-washing combined with drops in temperature can exacerbate dry skin. “If left untreated, dry skin may become irritated and start flaking, itching, cracking, and even bleed, damaging the skin barrier and increasing the risk of infection,” says Torres-Zegarra. Follow these steps every time you wash your hands to prevent dryness:
- Wash your hands with unscented soap and lukewarm water for at least 20 seconds.
- Pat your hands dry without rubbing them, then apply moisturizer immediately after.
- Choose a thick petroleum jelly or a dimethicone-based moisturizer. Look for oil-based ointments and creams, which Torres-Zegarra says are more effective than lotions.
- Opt for a fragrance-, dye-, and paraben-free moisturizer to avoid skin irritation.
Regardless of how often you wash your hands, Torres-Zegarra encourages people to use moisturizer at least twice a day. “The most important time to moisturize is immediately after bathing and handwashing, while the skin is still damp. This provides a seal to hold existing water in the skin,” she explains.
Skip a Step
Torres-Zegarra says that your face doesn’t get dirty overnight, so there’s no reason to deep clean it each morning. Instead, wash your face at night with warm water and finish with a cold-water rinse, which constricts the blood vessels and may relieve irritated skin.
Ditch Harsh Ingredients
In the winter, Torres-Zegarra says you may also want to stop using skincare products that contain the following: Alcohol (except for hand sanitizer), alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), fragrance (including soaps and face washes), and retinoids (unless recommended by your dermatologist). Avoiding these products will help your skin retain its natural oils, limiting the chance of developing dry skin.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone use a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher year-round, kids included. But applying sunscreen last is vital, and it will help you get the most out of any other products you use. Apply prescription creams or ointments to your face first, follow with a gentle moisturizer, then finish with sunscreen.
“Think of sunscreens as your umbrella in charge of protecting you from harmful UV light,” Torres-Zegarra says. “As such, it should be the last layer on your skin, to act as a shield against UV damage.” Follow these additional tips when choosing a sunscreen:
- Look for broad spectrum sunscreen, which protects your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
- Choose SPF 30 or higher. SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays verses SPF 30, which blocks 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays.
- Opt for water resistant sunscreens, even in the winter. Don’t forget to reapply every two hours when outside and every hour after sweating.
Care for Your Lips
More often than not, we forget about protecting our lips, leaving them exposed to winter conditions. But the cold weather, dry wind, and heated air inside can all lead to dry, cracked lips—at any age.
“The lips are very thin and do not contain oil glands like other areas of the skin. They can dry out 10 times faster than the rest of the skin on your face,” Torres-Zegarra says. Here’s what she recommends for dry lips:
- Try not to lick your lips. When your lips are dry, it’s natural to want to lick them to make them moist. Putting saliva on your lips actually makes them dry out faster, plus, the enzymes that are in saliva—that are meant to digest food—are irritating to the lips.
- Avoid lip balms containing camphor, eucalyptus, and menthol. These ingredients may initially feel soothing, but actually dry out and irritate your lips. Look for ointments that contain petrolatum, mineral oil, or glycerin instead.
- Use sunscreen on your lips. Despite the colder temperatures, your lips can still get burned—especially when outside or in the snow as it reflects UV rays directly to your face.
- Keep lip ointments for each of your family members in multiple places, such as on your child’s nightstand, on their bathroom counter, or inside your purse or car. If you each have your own readily available, it will be easier to continuously use them.
Try a Soothing Mask
While a lip balm will deliver some immediate relief to your lips, a lip mask may offer deeper moisture to them during the winter months. Because masks are meant to be left on the lips overnight when the product will not rub off as easily, the product may penetrate more deeply into the skin.
Keep Temperatures Cool
High temperatures and prolonged baths and showers can result in dry skin. Torres-Zegarra recommends limiting yourself to a five- to 10-minute bath or shower daily, or ideally, every other day. “If you bathe more than that, you remove your skin’s oily layer and cause it to lose moisture,” she says. Similar to washing your hands or face, you should bathe in lukewarm water, rather than hot, as hot water can wash away natural oils more easily.
Lather up Gently
To reduce the risk of trauma to the skin, Torres-Zegarra advises that you avoid bath sponges, scrub brushes, and washcloths. If you don’t want to give them up altogether, be mindful of using a light touch. For the same reason, pat dry rather than rubbing the skin when toweling dry after a shower or bath.
Lastly, apply that moisturizer immediately after bathing to lock in moisture and to keep your skin happy all winter long.