don’t let winter get the best of your skin: part 1

This is the first of a three-part series on why our skin suffers in winter and what steps we can take to protect it.

This winter has been unseasonably cold and winter weather is not kind to human skin. The combination of lower humidity, increased winds and cold temperatures creates the perfect storm for leaving skin dry, dehydrated and more susceptible to damage.

Image courtesy of mowildlife.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of mowildlife.blogspot.com.

So what can we do to keep our skin healthy and hydrated throughout the winter months? Protection. Lots of factors contribute to developing the dreaded “winter skin.” By avoiding moisture loss, unprotected sun exposure and free radical damage, you can keep your skin healthy and beautiful.

the first line of defense

The outermost layer of the skin is called the stratum corneum (SC) and it is the first line of defense against the outside world. The SC contains mostly dead skin cells and is often described as the brick and mortar of a wall. The bricks are dead skin cells (corneocytes) that contain a complex combination of lactic acid, urea, salts and amino acids that is collectively referred to as the skin’s natural moisturizing factor (NMF). The mortar is made up of groups of important fats (lipids) that organize themselves into layers creating a natural water-binding barrier for the skin. If there is breakdown in either these bricks or mortar, our skin loses its ability to hold onto moisture, becoming dry and sensitive.

Moisture is all-important for keeping your skin healthy at any time of year. Having enough water in the SC allows our skin to be soft and flexible. Moisture also plays a role in desquamation, which is the intricate process by which our cells turnover and are shed away from the SC. Without the proper moisture levels, the process breaks down and dead skin cells build up on the surface, making it dull, dry and flaky. This buildup of dead cells on the skin’s surface traps dirt and debris, and reduces the penetration of any topical products you apply. This creates an even worse situation for already stressed and dehydrated skin.

Here are easy some steps you can take to keep your skin hydrated all winter:

  1. Avoid using traditional soaps, as these strip the skin of necessary oils, and increase moisture loss and dryness. Instead, use pH-balanced, gentle cleansers. Those in particularly cold climates may want to switch to a cream-type cleanser for winter. A good choice is PCA SKIN’s Creamy Cleanser with gentle cleansing ingredients.
  2. Apply moisturizers that contain both humectant ingredients to draw moisture into the skin and occlusive ingredients to trap it within.
  3. Look for topical products that contain urea and glycerin, as these are the two ingredients, in addition to water, that are shown to hydrate cells internally. PCA SKIN’s Hydrating Serum contains these, as well as other humectant and occlusive ingredients, and is a great addition to any regimen.
  4. Use a cool mist humidifier indoors to increase humidity levels.
  5. Maintain water intake, even though the weather is cooler.
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