Along with the long winter nights come cold winds. And warm heating. Temperature extremes can wreak havoc on your skin: hello, rough knuckles, chapped lips and flaky face patches. And if you’re prone to eczema, you might expect a flare-up around now.
We asked our experts for their advice on how to take care of your skin this winter.
1. Moisturise (lots) more
If you suffer from dry skin in winter, take steps to prevent this before it sets in. Slather on moisturiser every day, any time your skin feels dry and always after washing.1 Applying creams when your skin is damp helps to lock in moisture and keep your skin soft and supple.1
If your skin is inflamed and red, doctors recommend water-based emollient cream or lotions, because the evaporation of the water can help to cool your skin too.1 If your skin is very dry but not inflamed, oil-based ointments can be more effective.1 They can leave your skin feeling greasy though, so you may prefer to save these for bedtime to avoid leaving greasy handprints on everything you touch.
2. Humidify the air
It’s not just icy air outside that irritates our skin, it's the way we crank up the indoor heat in response. But as well as warming the air, radiators and heaters dry it out. And this can lead to skin dryness and irritation.
So, try a room humidifier. You don’t need to invest in an expensive product, just place a bowl of water on or close to your radiators. The evaporating water will combat skin dryness and may also make a dry nose, throat or eyes more comfortable too.2
3. Don’t forget SPF
The sun is weaker in winter, but the radiation doesn’t go away. Levels of UVA are roughly the same year-round, and this type of radiation can age and damage your skin. It also passes through clouds and even windows.
Keep up a daily SPF habit, whether yours is included in your moisturiser or you apply a separate cream. Check that it includes UVA protection as well as UVB. And take particular care in the snow, since UV radiation is reflected from snowy surfaces.3
Bear in mind that when you’re not getting much sunlight and you’re using daily SPF, it’s hard for your body to make enough vitamin D. So consider taking a vitamin D supplement between October and March.4
4. Switch your handwash
We’re all washing our hands more often these days, and for longer. Combined with colder weather, this is a recipe for rough, dry hands and eczema flare-ups.
So think about switching your usual hand wash to something less harsh over winter. Dermatologists recommend washing with an emollient.1 Go for something gentle, hydrating and unscented to reduce the risk of irritation.
5.Take a (moisturising) soak in the tub
Bathtime is an opportunity to quench thirsty skin all over. Be generous with the bath oil, and avoid making the water too hot as this may irritate inflamed skin. Don’t use soaps or bubble baths as these strip the natural lipids from your skin.1 Look for bath oils formulated for dry or eczema-prone skin.
6. Go easy on the Christmas spirit(s)
Yes, it’s the time of year to raise a glass and celebrate. And this year, we’re especially looking forward to enjoying a Christmas party or two. But alcohol has a number of effects on your skin that you may want to avoid. It dilates your blood vessels, giving you a red flush. And it dehydrates you, every time you drink.5 So if you overdo it, you might be left with dry, grey-looking skin and dark circles under your eyes - not to mention a hangover.
Try to stick to the recommended maximum of 14 units a week. This is the same for men and women. And spread this over at least three days, keeping several days completely booze-free.5
7. Stop licking your lips
When it's cold and windy, and with dry indoor air, it can be tempting to lick your lips to keep them moist. But this has the opposite effect. Exposure to saliva damages the normal skin barrier function, causing inflammation.6 This makes you want to lick your lips more - and you can end up in a vicious circle, with sore, red skin on and around your mouth.
It’s best to prevent lip-chapping in the first place. Use a good quality, moisturising lip balm containing petroleum jelly or beeswax over winter.6 And wear a cosy scarf over your mouth when you're outdoors in the cold.
So, wrap up warm and enjoy the winter months with well-hydrated, comfortable skin.
If you’re experiencing a winter eczema flare-up, or you’re worried about any other skin issue, book an appointment with one of our doctors.References
1.Eczema - atopic. Clinical Knowledge Summaries. https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/eczema-atopic/prescribing-information/emollients/, published July 2021
2. Evidence Brief: Humidifier use in health care. Public Health Ontario. www.publichealthontario.ca/-/media/documents/e/2017/eb-humidifier-hc.pdf?la=en, published April 2017
3. Winter Sun Safety. Skin Cancer Foundation. www.skincancer.org/press/2018-winter-sun-safety/, published November 2018
4. Vitamin D. NHS. www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/, published 2 August 2020
4. How alcohol affects your appearance. Drinkaware. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/appearance/how-alcohol-affects-your-appearance, accessed 17 November 2021
5. Lip Licker’s Dermatitis. DermNet NZ. https://dermnetnz.org/topics/lip-lickers-dermatitis, published January 2020
6. Dry Lips. NHS 111 Wales. https://111.wales.nhs.uk/encyclopaedia/d/article/drylips, published 8 October 2021