Winter skin doesn't have to resemble the landscape

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2004


  Protection is the first step to healthy skin during the winter months. Clothing that repels wind and water, sunglasses, sunscreen and lip balm are all helpful. File photo by M. Scott Moon

Protection is the first step to healthy skin during the winter months. Clothing that repels wind and water, sunglasses, sunscreen and lip balm are all helpful.

File photo by M. Scott Moon

Rugged terrain and deep valleys are words that should be used to describe Alaska's vast wilds and not its residents facial features. However, due to the extreme weather conditions here, that is exactly what the biting winds and dry climate can do to unprotected skin.

Winter skin care is more than just taking precautions against frostbite. While frostbite is an important medical condition to worry about when trekking outside, winter skin care is literally the care and feeding of the largest organ of your body under winters harsh conditions.

Chapped lips, red raw hands, dry flaky skin and cracked feet that resemble ice breaking up on the river, are equal-opportunity side effects of "old man winter." They affect both men and women and can happen whether you are out riding the fresh powder for hours or hibernating indoors with a good book.

But by following a some basic steps and tweaking a few habits, men and women should be able to make it through the winter without a serious case of "winter itch."

Rikki Burns, owner of About Face Skin Care Clinic in Kenai, suggests a four-step approach to caring for your skin: protect, hydrate, cleanse, and exercise.

To protect your skin, Burns suggests that the best defense is a good offense - cover it up. Dress in layers made out of natural fibers to help minimize chafing. By dressing in layers, you will be able to add or remove clothing for comfort and your skin will be able to regulate its temperature more efficiently.

Anything left exposed should be covered, liberally and often, with a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of a least 15 to minimize the aging effects of the sun. When protecting the skin on your face, remember your lips. A protective barrier of lip balm or even petroleum jelly will help ward off painful chapped lips or lip cancer.

"When people are outside in the cold, the farthest thing from their mind is sun-damage, but it happens." Burns said. "The sun reflecting off the snow helps to magnify its effects, and at the end of a day of outdoor activity a sunburn is the end result and the damage is already done."

The low humidity conditions that rob the skin of moisture outside can be compounded when you crank up the heat inside to counteract the cold. Your skin is taking a beating coming and going, making moisture replacement crucial inside and out.

Drinking plenty of water or low sugar sports drinks and eating fruits and vegetables high in water are good ways to help hydrate from within. To fight the environmental effects, keep the thermostat as low as you can comfortably handle and use a humidifier to put moisture back in the air.

Burns stresses the need to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize to help replace the natural skin lubricant, sebum, that is lost with the dryer air.

She suggests as one of the easier and more productive ways to moisturize is after a shower. Step out and before you completely dry off and use a moisturizer from head-to-toe to seal the water in.

"It is the lack of water, not the cold that causes dry skin." Burns said. "One habit people should break is taking hot showers. It damages the skin. Opt for warm ones instead."

Burns said the most misunderstood step of moisturizing is that people tend to rub it in when they should just let the body absorb what it needs. Start by applying a thick enough layer to see and then let your body take what it needs. As for the type of moisturizer to use, Burns suggest one with hyaluronic acid in it, as it can hold up to 400 times its weight in water and possibly seal in moister longer.

At the end of the day, it's time to cleanse your skin and prepare it for the next round. It doesn't matter if you have been outside or at the office, your face has been expose to natural and man-made impurities in the air that must be removed.

Burns recommended a cleansing regime consisting of gently and carefully exfoliating your skin two to three times a week to slough off the dead skin cells and help to new skin appear.

"People tend to forget that their skin is a living, breathing organ and that it is constantly regenerating new cells." Burns said. "Be sure to use a gentle cleaner every day made for your skin type."

Clay masks, regular facials and homemade concoctions are all good ways to keep your skin in-the-pink. She said while men tend to have better skin than women due to regular shaving, they usually have a more difficult time seeking advice on skin care. Her remedy for that is to ask your mom, wife, girlfriend or to seek professional advice.

"No one should be intimidated by the myriad of choices. Seek out someone with good skin that you trust and get a home facial if you can't face going to a salon," she said.

Burns home facial scrub recipe uses ingredients that are available in the kitchen:

Blend 1 cup of rock salt in a blender until finely ground;

Place in a bowl and add 4 tablespoons olive oil and blend together;

Wet face and apply scrub gently, rinse off.

Next to a healthy diet, plenty of sleep and luck-of-the-draw on good genes, the last defense to help your face from looking like the "crypt-keeper" is to exercise. Exercise helps the skin to rejuvenate itself through better circulation, and the new skin keeps you younger looking longer.

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