winter skin

Very dry skin? Chapped lips? Health writer Helen Foster asks the experts for the latest skin advice for men and women this winter.

Cosy nights in and crisp, cold days – there’s a lot to love about winter. But your skin isn’t always as happy with the change in season. “One of the biggest challenges our skin faces in winter is staying hydrated as cold weather and central heating can drain the skin’s moisture,” says Pharmacist Anshu Bhimbat from LloydsPharmacy.

On top of this, recent research from the University of Copenhagen has found that skin cells literally shrink in cold weather and levels of an important hydrating protein called filaggrin fall. This combination leads to dry, rough, unhappy winter skin. Luckily, it’s easy to cheer it back up. Here’s how…

1. Get a plant

new study from the University of Reading has found that plants put moisture back into the air and, according to lead scientist Dr Tijana Blanusa: “House plants might be a simple and affordable way to reduce air dryness indoors and alleviate symptoms of dry skin.” Plants with big leaves like the peace lily work best.

2. Treat areas individually

The Copenhagen study found that cold weather particular affects hydration on the cheeks, which are often less oily than the nose or forehead. “You might want to apply moisturiser two to three times a day to particularly sensitive areas,” says Bhimbat.

3. Wear a scarf over your face

Another finding of the Copenhagen team was that hands weren’t as affected by winter weather as skin on the face and one possible reason for this is that most Danish people wear gloves in winter. A balaclava might be a step too far, but covering your cheeks with your scarf could help protect skin in very cold weather.

4. Avoid long hot baths

It’s a nice way to warm up on a cold night, but showering or bathing for too long or in water that is too hot leads to a loss of the skin’s natural moisturising factors, according to Dylan Griffiths, Medical Manager at Eucerin. Keep soaks short and apply moisturiser straight afterwards when the skin is still slightly damp.

5. Wear an extra layer

“In winter, the constant change of environment – from a hot, centrally heated room to the fresh cold outside air – can play havoc with the skin,” says Kate Kerr, clinical facialist. “The dehumidified air of a heated room strips the moisture from the skin leaving it feeling tight, dry and dull and can even exacerbate sensitivity and rosacea. To help counteract the dryness turn the temperature down a few notches and put on a jumper instead.”

6. Urea is your friend

It’s an amazing hydrator that’s been proven to stop water leaving the skin and reduce sensitivity to irritants. Skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis also often flare up in winter, so if you’re prone to either, stick carefully to the skincare regime suggested by your doctor.

7. Ditch the thick moisturiser 

When we feel that skin is dry, naturally we reach for a thick moisturiser. “By using a heavy moisturiser, our skin’s surface sends a signal down to its water reservoirs telling it that there is plenty of moisture and to halt production,” explains Kerr. “This makes the skin sluggish and lacking in moisture, so we reach for more moisturiser – it’s a vicious cycle!” Instead, she suggests trying a gentle exfoliating cleanser and a serum with hyaluronic acid. Sounds extreme but this clever stuff hold 1,000 times its own weight in water and will help your skin without upsetting its natural moisturising factors.

8. Avoid licking your lips too much

“The lips don’t contain sebum or oil-producing glands and the skin is thin, which makes them prone to drying out,” explains Griffiths. When you lick your lips you make them damp with saliva and as the wind dries this, it also dries out the lips themselves. Invest in a good lip balm is the answer to this because it keeps lips moisturised and acts as a protective barrier.

9. Feed your skin

Protecting your skin on the outside helps, but hydrating the skin from within is an extra step that could make a big difference. “Hyaluronic acid is a great tool our body uses to help hydration,” explains Beth Morris, clinical nutritionist at BioCare. “Starchy root vegetables like carrots or sweet potatoes, dark leafy green vegetables and soy products like tofu all help support hyaluronic acid production in the body.”

10. Look to vitamin D

Morris also suggests taking a vitamin D supplement in winter. “Vitamin D is really important for skin health, supporting the growth of new skin cells and the repair of damaged tissues. We normally make vitamin D from sunlight, but this can’t happen as much in the UK, especially in winter.” This doesn’t mean you can skip sunscreen, though. Vitamin D is made when UVB rays hit the skin, but it’s the longer UVA rays that age skin, which still reach us in winter.

Did you know that vitamin D is also crucial for your bone health? Find out how you can start taking care of your bones now.

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