In wintertime, central heating and lower humidity (very dry air) can aggravate skin dryness. So as the temperature gauge plummets, we look at simple ways to combat this seasonal phenomenon.
The epidermis at a glance
The uppermost layer of the skin is called the epidermis; this forms the main protective barrier and is where drying occurs. The epidermis is comprised of layers of cells, stacked on top of one another like a brick wall. Ordinarily, the skin cells are plump with water, tightly packed together and surrounded by lipids (fats) that provide support, so the skin appears smooth and supple.
What causes dry skin?
Dry skin occurs when the epidermis does not hold on to sufficient moisture, so skin can feel tight, rough, flaky and itchy. A number of things can contribute to its development, for example: too frequent bathing, use of harsh drying soaps, the ageing process (the production of natural oils in the skin slows as we age, and sun damage is cumulative so a lifetime of sun exposure and sun damage can result in thinner skin that doesn’t retain moisture so well), or certain conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
What to do?
Here are 6 tips that may help to alleviate skin dryness and associated discomfort.
1: More moisturiser please!
Emollients are moisturisers that are used in two ways: applied directly to the skin as a leave on moisturiser, and as a soap substitute instead of soap and shower gel.
Dry skin itches! Moisturising rehydrates the epidermis, seals in moisture, and soothes dry, itchy skin. In winter, you may need to moisturise more frequently and/or use a ‘heavier’ moisturiser e.g. an ointment rather than a cream or lotion; ointments tend to work better when the skin is very dry.
2: Choose products that are bland, un-fragranced and preservative free.
Your healthcare professional will be able to give advice about the different products available and what might suit you best.
3: One quick daily dip!
Staying in the bath or shower too long can be dehydrating, so keep the duration short (5-10minutes) and the water temperature should be lukewarm rather than hot.
4: Avoid harsh soaps
Ordinary soaps and bubble baths can dry out the skin by stripping away its natural oils. Skin pH is a measure of acidity and alkalinity, ranging on a scale form 0 (most acidic) to 14 (the most alkaline). Healthy skin is naturally acidic, with a pH of around 5.5. This acidity plays an important role in skin barrier function and skin health. Soaps and detergents raise skin pH which disrupts this delicate balance.
Use emollient wash products (soap substitutes) when handwashing, bathing or showering, which leave the skin coated with a protective film afterwards.
After bathing or showering, gently pat your skin dry. This is a great time to apply emollient all over as it helps to seal in moisture while your skin is still damp.
5: Wear sunscreen
The sun is a source of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation can damage skin cells, with overexposure causing both visible (sunburn) and invisible damage, resulting in premature ageing and increasing skin cancer risk. UV light type A (UVA) is present year round, even on cloudy days so winter sun can still cause damage.
Consider applying a broad-spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB) sunscreen factor 30 to your face and back of hands if exposed, to prevent photo-aging.
6: Consider using a humidifier
Humidifiers moisten the air to increase the level of humidity. To combat the drying effects of central heating and lower humidity during winter, you may consider using a humidifier indoors when the heating is on.
If you need help or guidance about managing a skin condition like eczema, psoriasis, HS, acne or rosacea, contact the ISF Helpline here.