Winter Skin

Don’t put away that sunscreen just yet. The harsh winter weather can wreak as much havoc on your skin as can the hot summer sun, according to Dr. Mary Gail Mercurio, professor of dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

“Skin protection is equally important in the winter. It just shifts slightly in the approach,” she says.

Stay protected indoors and outdoors

One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to winter skin protection is forgetting sunscreen.

“I see some of the worst sunburns in early spring because people aren’t in the sunscreen habit and they’re caught off guard,” Mercurio says.

Even if you live in an area that doesn’t get much sunlight in the winter, there’s wind and low humidity to contend with. Wearing the proper outdoor-clothing to trap in moisture is essential to healthy winter skin. And the indoor air can be just as damaging.

“Right now, we are starting to see cold temperatures outside in combination with using heat indoors,” she says. “The mechanism of the heater is to remove moisture from the air.”

Dry weather can especially be challenging for aging skin, which loses its ability to retain moisture. Static in your house is a good indicator that the air is too dry.  A humidifier will help replace some of the moisture, which is removed by heat.

“I can’t tell you how many patients have told me I’ve never needed moisturizer,” she says. “At a certain age, the skin starts to behave differently.”

If left unprotected, dry skin can get inflamed and itchy. This can eventually turn into dermatitis, which requires treatment and can be very uncomfortable, Mercurio says.

Product line-up

Winter skin protection requires the right products. Mercurio recommends using moisturizing soaps as opposed to deodorant soaps, which tend to be more drying. Apply moisturizer immediately after showering.

“Moisturizing while you’re still damp helps trap some of the moisture that you acquired in the shower,” Mercurio says.

Look for a thick moisturizer — something that comes from a tub versus a pump, which is more liquid.

Don’t have the funds for fancy lotions? Use what’s in your kitchen. Many natural beauty products these days include ingredients like shea butter and coconut, argan, avocado, jojoba or almond oils. And don’t discount grandma’s standby: Good old petroleum jelly.

“Petroleum jelly is one of the most effective moisturizing ingredients for anywhere on the body if you can tolerate it,” Mercurio says.

Sleeping with petroleum-jelly-filled cotton gloves can help return moisture to overly dry hands. Lip balm and a layer of Vaseline in the nose or on any exposed areas is important if you’re going to be out in the snow for a long time. “It’s a product that has stood up to the test of time, but a lot of people don’t like the greasy feeling,” she says. “Keeping it on the counter won’t accomplish anything so find something you will use.”

Lastly, be sure you aren’t using abrasive cleansers, toners or alcohol-based products, which will dry your skin out. Summer skin- and face-care regiments should be tweaked to stand up to the winter elements. And the same products won’t work for everyone. Find something that works for you.