Dear Lifehacker, I love being outdoors, but not in winter. The cold and biting wind turns my face red, tight, and sore. Even my eyes are dry! What can I do to protect myself in this harsh environment? Thanks, Chilled Out
Cold winter weather can be a nightmare for everyone's skin and exposed body parts — not just those who have sensitive complexions. The lower temperatures, cold wind and dry indoor air causes the water in our skin to evaporate more, and as a result we get itchy, dry, and even painfully cracked skin, not to mention dry eyes, which can also (ironically) tear up. Unfortunately, it takes more than just slapping on some moisturiser to protect your skin and combat the brutal weather. Here are a few tips to winter-proof yourself when you have to brave the cold.
Cover Up As Much As Possible
The less exposed your body is to the elements, the better. You don't have to don a ski mask and goggles (or so much you can't put your arms down), just to commute to work. The key is to choose your clothing carefully.
- The best winter jackets have features designed to block the snow or cold air from getting in. For example: storm flaps over the zipper, drawstrings or other closures on the sleeves and waist, a high or stand-up collar. Dick's Sporting Goods has a winter jacket buying guide if you're looking for a jacket that will keep you comfortable and safe from the elements this winter.
- Knit hats and earmuffs are nice, but a hood — especially one that's insulated — will block the wind from the sides of your face.
- Similarly, leather or insulated gloves are a better physical barrier than cotton.
- Don't forget a scarf to cover not just your neck, but to pull up over your nose when it gets really stormy.
- Make sure your clothes aren't too loose; if they are, the wind will find its way in. As an alternative to tight clothing, layers are your friend.
- Also, avoid scratchy clothing like wool, since it can disrupt the barrier on your skin that keeps in moisture.
Use The Right Skin Care Products
Even if your body is covered head to toe, your skin is still prone to drying out in the winter. This is the time to ree-valuate our skincare regimen.
- When washing, use creamy, non-foaming cleansers and moisturising body washes instead of more drying soaps. Also avoid astringents, especially those containing alcohol, since they can strip skin of its moisture.
- Over on The Telegraph, facialist Joanne Evans recommends exfoliating dry, flaky skin three times a week if you have dry skin or twice a week if you have oily or combination skin. By getting rid of the dry skin on top, you help new moisture-rich cells move to the surface, says Marie Claire. The key is to follow exfoliating with lots of moisturiser or a healing hydrating mask.
- Moisturise frequently throughout the day!
- If you use a light, water-based lotion, switch to a more moisturising cream or oil. WebMD suggests looking for "nonclogging" oil ingredients such as avocado, mineral, primrose or almond oils. Or look for lotions with "humectants" which attract moisture to your skin: glycerine, sorbitol and alpha-hydroxy acids.
- If you have really delicate or sensitive skin, watch out for products that contain sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), which has been found to irritate skin and make it more permeable.
- Don't forget the sunblock, particularly on and under your nose if you're active outdoors.
- Finally, frequently apply lip balm with SPF — but avoid the drying ones that contain camphor, phenol, menthol, OL or salicylic acid.
Protect Your Eyes
Both the outdoor and indoor winter environments can aggravate our eyes, making them dry or teary. There's nothing like walking out into the cold, a gust of wind causing you to tear, and that water then drying out the delicate area under your eyes. (My eyes are chapped!) To prevent this:
- Wear sunglasses, preferably the kind that wrap around your face. This will help against both snow glare and the cold wind.
- If you have dry eyes, apply artificial tears or mild lubricating eye drops.
- Contact lens wearers should re-wet their lenses often.
- Blink more.
- All About Dry Eye recommends applying warm compresses at night or when you wake up to help with tear secretion
- And, yes, moisturise the delicate eye area.
Change Your Indoor Habits
Staying hydrated is always important, including the winter when you want to save your skin. In addition to drinking lots of water:
- Take warm rather than steamy showers or baths. They feel good in the winter, but intense heat can break down the skin's lipid barrier and your body will lose more moisture.
- Turn on the humidifier, especially at night when your body is trying to repair itself.
- Eat more healthy fats, like nuts, avocados, and fatty fish. Eskimos eat a diet very rich in seafood and healthy fats, which plays a part in their incredible skin.
- According to the NIH, mouthwashes with alcohol, OTC cold medicines, and some prescriptions, including antidepressants and high blood pressure medications, can worsen dryness, so see if you can use alternatives.
- Don't smoke, and cut down on alcohol.
Treat Dry, Cracked Skin
Finally, if all this exfoliating, moisturising and humidifying doesn't help, and your skin is still dry or cracked, here are a couple of things that can help:
- Aquaphor or vaseline, especially on cracked lips.
- At night, after moisturising your hands and feet, put socks and cotton gloves on to help them recover their moisture.
- Treat windburned-skin with 1 per cent hydrocortisone.
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