It’s Not Too Late To Save Your Skin This Winter
Everything you need to do to avoid cracking up during the cold snap
It is no small irony that the very things we do to counterbalance the effects of a cold snap end up making the situation worse. Dialling up the central heating to its maximum setting for full-on hygge draws moisture out of skin that has already been massacred by the outdoors. The same is true for those hot baths and endless showers. If anything, alternating between hot and cold extremes several times a day will cause capillaries to expand and contract until they break and cause redness.
And so, weeks into winter, having done your best to stay warm and dry, your skin starts to rebel. Cracking, itching, redness, dullness and sensitivity (or even psoriasis and eczema) are some of the many things you can look forward to as the mercury drops.
Such symptoms require heavy-duty grooming gear – the kind that’s efficacious enough to fix problems, but not so strong that it will exacerbate irritation. Your choice of product is hugely important come winter, as is investing in a humidifier.
Oil: the first line of defence
At the very surface of the skin is the hydrolipidic film, a thin layer of sweat, sebum, water and keratin cells that acts like a forcefield, protecting the lower layers from environmental aggressors. This barrier gets ripped apart by the dry winter air, leaving you defenceless against “non-resident” bacteria and with perpetually dehydrated skin. Like a pot with no lid, skin is prone to lose moisture without this natural barrier in place.
In order to rebuild the hydrolipidic film, you have to go about the job with the same components from which it is made – namely, oils rich in fatty acids (as opposed to synthetic mineral oil, which will just clog pores). La Mer The Renewal Oil mimics the structure of the hydrolipidic film with a blend sesame and eucalyptus oils and, in doing so, reinforces its integrity.
NB: most people think of oils as hardcore hydrators and, while they do provide some moisture, they are essentially emollients that sit on the surface of the skin where they can reinforce barrier function. If oils don’t appeal, at the very least, use an oil-based moisturiser during winter.
As tempting as they are, long hot showers and baths are only going to rip into your skin’s defences. Scalding water dissolves the protective barrier and causes inflammation, which leads to dehydration, itchiness and tightness. Couple that with the moisture that evaporates off the skin, and you’ll be considerably worse off than you were pre-wash (in some respects, anyway).
Stick to one shower or bath per day and use lukewarm water for no more than 10 minutes. Equally, avoid using harsh soaps or face washes while you’re in there as they will work like paint stripper on your skin. You might not be able to work up a satisfying lather, but a gentle cream-based body wash or face cleanser such as M.E. Skin Lab Cleanser 27 will rid the skin of impurities without robbing it of essential fats, oils and proteins.
Rehydration vs moisturisation
Dehydration is one of the main dermatological concerns during winter and the core issue from which a host of other problems arise. Adequate hydration controls certain aspects of the ageing process, while bringing essential nutrients to cells and ensuring that the skin can rid itself of toxins.
Most people assume that slapping on a moisturiser will ensure that hydration levels are kept in check. And while a cream might provide short-term benefits, it’s worth pointing out that moisturisation and hydration, while used interchangeably, are not the same thing.
Moisturisers trap the oils and lipids on the surface of the skin so that water doesn’t evaporate into the air (see above). Hydration, on the other hand, pertains to the amount of water in the skin. This may seem like semantics, but the distinction is important to make when you’re looking to treat winter skin.
The gold standard in rehydration is hyaluronic acid, a spongey polysaccharide that is found naturally in skin and joint fluid, but that becomes increasingly scarce as the years go by. Fortunately, hyaluronic acid can be synthesised and bottled, and regular application can dramatically boost hydration levels since the molecule can bind huge amounts of water to cells (it is often said that a single molecule of HA can hold up to 1,000 times its own weight in water). This makes your face noticeably more plump and with fewer fine lines to boot.
There are various kinds of HA – sodium hyaluronate, hydrolysed hyaluronic acid and sodium acetyl hyaluronate are just three of the names you might see on the back of your moisturiser – but few are as pure or as concentrated as the long- and short-chain molecules in Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum.
Groom Below The Neck
Given that you’ll be wrapped in layers, it’s easy to forgo a body moisturiser. Even so, the skin below your neck requires special care, as exemplified by the reptilian texture of your elbows and knees.
“These areas are at risk of becoming dry and cracked because the thicker skin loses elasticity due to dehydration,” says cosmetic dermatologist Dr David Jack. Hinge joints are constantly in use and perpetual flexing takes its toll on skin that has already been depleted by the dry winter air.
“In cases of mild dryness, exfoliating some of the flaky skin with a glycolic or lactic acid serum can be helpful,” he says. “You then have to rehydrate the skin with hyaluronic acid and apply a barrier such as Vaseline [petroleum jelly]”. If the area is extremely dry and starting to crack, then Dr Jack warns against exfoliation altogether. “Healing the cracks with an antiseptic barrier, such as chloramphenicol ointment, should become a priority,” he says.
If none of the above applies to you, then a layer of dense moisturiser, such as Le Labo Body Cream, applied to moist skin will protect against the elements and any seasonal chaffing.
Get a next-generation facial
Getting your face blasted with a panel of bright LEDs at a time of year when seasonal affective disorder is messing with your sanity will provide more than a mood boost. The Light Salon in London offers fast and effective treatments that laugh in the face of touchy-feely facials. The 15-minute ExpressLED treatment combines yellow and near-infrared light to help combat skin disorders such as rosacea, psoriasis and swelling. Best of all, it remedies winter dullness by restoring that coveted healthy glow we associate with warmer months.
Another way to remedy lacklustre winter skin is through micro-needling (available at clinics such as D.Thomas in London), a minimally invasive procedure whereby the skin is punctured with a rollering device (think of a paint roller covered with tiny spikes) to create channels through which much-needed actives such as vitamins C and E can be absorbed. It’s a lot like aerating the lawn, except the lawn is your face. Not only does this procedure boost the efficacy of active agents immeasurably, but the (surprisingly painless) process of “micro injuring” the skin boosts collagen production and reduces the appearance of fine lines, scars and wrinkles.