Canadian winters bring to mind sparkling snowflakes, steaming mugs of cocoa — and dry, itchy skin. Just ask Toronto mom of three Nance Williams. “My skin feels like an old piece of flannel in the winter,” she says. “I just wait for the warmer weather to bring it back to life because I’m too busy in winter to worry about it.”
But when your schedule is packed with hockey games, figure skating lessons and family trips to the toboggan hill, it’s important to find time to take care of your skin. In the worst cases, says Vancouver dermatologist Frances Jang, dryness can lead to cracking and, in turn, the not-so-sexy skin condition called dermatitis. Read on for the causes of and solutions to all your winter skin woes.
Contributing factors Long walks in the crisp winter air and post-walk cocktails by the fire are bad news for your poor dehydrated dermis, as both tend to suck moisture out of your skin. “On top of that, we’re wearing wools and scratchy materials to keep warm, but these fabrics can irritate our skin,” says Toronto dermatologist Kucy Pon. To keep skin supple in winter, she recommends avoiding long hot showers, and cutting back on alcohol and caffeine, which contribute to dehydration.
Like many women, Williams tends to use the same skin care products all year long — and expects the same results from season to season. But skin care regimens for the body and face have to change during the colder months, says Jang. The good news is that this doesn’t require a lot of extra time. Most areas of the body, especially the face, require a minimalist approach, even in the winter.
Dry skin can be age related too. “As you get older, you’re more impacted by dry air, indoors and out,” says Jang. And although it’s not actually a direct cause of aging, dry skin def-initely makes you look older and those blasted wrinkles look deeper. But don’t despair; a bit of home care can do great things for your seasonally affected skin.
Winter skincare 101 When dryness kicks in, you’ll likely notice it on your face first. “I feel like my face is always exposed to the elements since I’m out with the kids so much,” says Williams. Luckily, it only takes a few minutes a day to treat dry facial skin. Total care starts first thing in the morning, with a quick cleanse. “You want to use a gentler cleanser morning and night, such as Spectro Jel ($15). And then moisturize with a really good cream, such as Linacare ($58),” says Jang. Budget-wise moms can also try Curel, Complex 15 and Moisturel products, she says. “Avoid products with too many acids, like lactic or glycolic, that may worsen irritation. The big key is to hydrate skin and seal in moisture.” Look for creams and lotions with ingredients such as glycerin, petrolatum or urea.On particularly frosty days or when you plan to hit the slopes, give your skin an extra layer of protection by applying a moisturizing cream, then a sunblock lotion.
Total treatment So what if you’ve done everything you can to prevent a flare-up and dryness sets in anyway? “Sometimes if a person is super-dry, I’ll prescribe a cream that contains urea, which binds water and keeps it in the skin,” says Jang. Formulas like this are very hydrating, but beware — urea can sting sensitive skin. In cases of severe dryness, Jang recommends plain old petroleum jelly. “Put Vaseline all over the body and feet, and go to sleep with old pyjamas and socks on.”
An increase in itching and irritation is a sign that things are getting out of control and it’s time to call in the pros. “In some cases, especially if the skin is looking rashy, you really do need to see a dermatologist to get a prescription cortisone cream and a gentle skin care program to settle things down,” says Jang.
Our prescription for a healthy winter glow? Hang in there. Summer is just around the corner.
Cold weather cures Think tender and mild Keep your whole body baby-soft by reserving soap for the parts of your body that actually get dirty, such as skin folds, hands and feet. For your face, use a mild soap-free cleanser. Try: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, about $10.
Pat, pat, pat Rubbing your skin dry with a towel will make any redness, flaking and inflammation worse. “Instead, gently pat skin dry and leave it a little damp,” says Vancouver dermatologist Frances Jang. To soothe particularly irritated patches, use a calming formulation. Try: Clinique Comfort on Call, $47.
Lubricate With skin still damp, slather up. “Moisturize from head to toe,” says Toronto dermatologist Kucy Pon. “And don’t forget areas typically neglected in the winter months, such as elbows and feet.” Try: Olay Quench Mousse, $9.99.
Give exfoliation a vacation Using loofahs and scrubs in the shower may be a key part of your beauty routine, but Jang recommends taking a pass on all that scrubbing in winter to avoid irritating your skin. If you’re an exfoliation junkie, though, choose a gentle formula. Try: Philosophy Coconut Body Scrub, $25.
Sunscreen is a must Don’t let the cold weather fool you: Harmful UV rays can damage skin year-round. In fact, reflective snow and ice can actually make them worse. Protect skin with a daily moisturizer containing sunscreen. Try: Dermalogica Dynamic Skin SPF 30, $78.
Beat the drought Counteract the drying effects of indoor heat with a humidifier. It may not be practical to have a humidifier in every room, but do keep one in the bedroom (and the kids’ rooms) to replenish skin while you sleep.