Your skin is a major water reservoir for your body - but winter air, inside and out, just sucks that moisture out. It's tough to enjoy the season of fresh air and frost when you're scratching at your epidermis.
Drink lots. Water and lightly salted broths help your body retain fluids. See to it that the air at home and work is maintained at at least 35 per cent humidity. If you're in the market for a humidifier, a good-quality one, well maintainted, will lessen your chances of inhaling mould. Use filtered water in it if you can, so you're not breathing chlorine. Humidified air ups your immunity to cold and flu bugs, too.
Paradoxically, the bathroom is a major skin-drying zone. Hot showers and baths strip your natural protective oils. Try keeping your wash ritual as short and lukewarm as possible. Chlorine is another shrivelling agent, so a shower or bath water filter will help. If you must soak, add one or two tablespoons of cold-pressed vegetable oil after getting in.
Adding a cup of organic apple cider vinegar will relieve discomfort from dry, flaky skin. A handful of wet oatmeal on your washcloth instead of soap will exfoliate and moisturize. When you're done washing, slather on moisturizer all over. To lessen irritation, avoid scented laundry products and wear cotton or silk under your woolies.
When you go outside, protect your face. Shea or cocoa butter are preferred ingredients.
Finally, persistent skin dryness or cracking that doesn't respond to basic maintenance can be a sign of bigger trouble like nutrient deficiencies, digestive problems, thyroid imbalance or other issues. You'll want to rule out such possibilities with the help of a competent health care practitioner.
what the experts say
"If you don't want problems, exfoliate and protect. If you don't get rid of dead skin, when you put on moisturizer you're nourishing something dead. To exfoliate, there are chemical options like alpha-hydroxy acid and physical options like loofah sponges. For your best moisturizing product, consult a professional. Consultations with a dermatologist are covered by OHIP. The other thing people must do in winter is use sunblock. UV light is present all year round. In winter, not only do you get it directly, but you get 50 per cent of it reflected back from the snow."
LAURA FERNANDEZ, medical esthetician, Toronto
"The most important thing is hydration. You want your urine to be a pale, very-light-yellow colour. That's a sign you're drinking enough. If you're thirsty, you're definitely dehydrated. Essential fatty acids would be the second most important thing. The ideal way is for people to grind flaxseeds themselves (just before eating.) The next best would be using flax oil . To help your skin stay in good shape, just before a shower brush off the dead skin cells with a loofah. That stimulates elimination, and at the end of the shower finish off with water as cold as you can handle. That closes the pores and helps circulation."
HEATHER BOHEZ, naturopathic doctor, Mississauga
"Our skin holds about 17 litres of water. That's what gives it its nice plumpness. If your body's not getting enough water, it will take it from the skin. But big glasses of water when it's cold out, that's hard to face. Try drinking it warm with a little bit of lemon and honey. Oil on your skin is not a moisturizer. A moisturizer needs to contain water and oil, always. The stuff you put on your body should be edible, because if it's toxic to your insides, it's toxic from the outside. There are tons of amazing books on making your own cosmetics.'
MONIKA GHENT, registered herbalist, natural skin care specialist, Toronto
"In traditional Chinese medicine there are three different causes of (severe) dryness: deficient blood, heat in the blood (inflammation, overactive metabolism), and dampness in the skin (thickened, clogged skin fluids) that prevents blood from adequately nourishing the skin. You can use certain foods to nourish the blood to nourish the skin: try daily consumption of moderate amounts of black sesame seeds, flaxseed or oil, softly cooked eggs and molasses, especially in winter. If you have a very thick tongue coating, that's a sign of dampness and you should concentrate on barley tea and pearl barley. Barley drains dampness and specifically targets dampness in the digestive system and skin."
ADINA STANESCU, Chinese herbalist, founder, TCM Skin Clinic, Toronto
"You need a rich cream with shea butter and skin-protectant essential oils. Add 4 drops geranium and lavender oil to 200 ml of rosewater to make a gentle toning solution. Clean your face with that. Put a rich, unscented cream on top (to which you've added) 1 drop sandalwood, 4 drops lavender and 6 drops mandarin oil per 50 ml of cream. Mandarin and sandalwood heal and soothe skin. Lavender helps drain the sinuses. To 250 ml of almond oil add 12 drops black pepper, 10 drops juniper berry and 8 drops benzoin oils. Massage this in before a shower or bath. Don't use soap. Afterwards, pat your skin dry.'
JAN BENHAM, aromatherapist, author, The Creamy Craft Of Cosmetic Making and The Baby Boomer's Beauty Bible, Toronto