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Many, many years ago my daughter sent me a Far Side cartoon of a man stepping out of an igloo and reporting to his wife “Well, it’s cold again” I have to imagine every Alaskan has seen this iconic cartoon but every year I still laugh when I think about it. I laugh because I’m never ready for winter but it still happens as certain as the comedy of that cartoon.
As most of us are aware, along with the cold temps comes the occasional pain of winter lizard skin and the sporty Santa look, bright rosy red chapped cheeks. Lizards don’t live in cold climates and Santa gets his red cheeks from windburn. I suppose that’s what he gets for flying a sleigh with no windshield! We’re not lizards and we’re not Santa so lets dive into some tips for defensive cold weather skin care.
1. Watch The Water Temperatures
Oh the great offender. Hot water. Hand washing and showering in smoking hot water sounds wonderful but we’re here to throw cold water on that peaceful thought. To be certain we are not the Water Temp Police, do what you want, but there may be drawbacks to our hot water luxuries. On the other hand, cooler temps may have several benefits for health and the skin. Let’s dig into the skin side of this issue.
Hot water when combined with a soap or detergent is very good at removing oils. That’s fine for washing a dinner plate but it’s also tough on your skin. Exposure to hot water will effectively remove the oils in your outer skin layer. Once the oil is gone, there’s nothing to slow the evaporation of the epidermal moisture. If your skin is already dry then hot water will only increase the dry condition.
What can we do?
Simply use cooler water. A trend we see circulating in health circles are ice baths and cold water dunks. Showering or sitting in cold water has benefits but we don’t necessarily have to get so extreme for a routine shower.
The more moderate approach would be to start your shower with your normal water temperature. Every couple of minutes dial it down a few degrees. After doing this several times you just might be surprised that cooler water actually feels okay and you will feel a little less dry.
For hand washing, lukewarm temps are especially important if we are scrubbing up several time a day. Using cooler water at the sink means you don’t strip off as much natural oil and it’s as effective as warmer water for skin cleaning. The CDC guidelines for hand washing indicates the temperature of the water does not appear to affect microbe removal and warmer water is likely to cause more skin irritation.
2. Gentle Cleansers
Everything being pass off as a soap, whether a solid or a liquid, should be guilty until proven innocent. Commercially manufactured soaps are more a detergent than what we consider a natural soap. The soap versus detergent debate is complicated so we will roll out the abbreviated version. It’s about the ingredients. Soap is mostly an alkali salt of fatty acids and is used for cleansing skin.
The ingredients are very basic, oils or fats combined with sodium or potassium hydroxide and a liquid. A detergent is generally formulated for cleaning laundry and surfaces other than skin. Detergents typically use synthetic ingredients.
Unfortunately for the shopper there are strange and possibly harsh chemicals lurking on the soap aisle. Many soap-like products that innocently occupy the shelves are beckoning you with the soothing song of “baby soap”, “gentle” and “sensitive skin”. To rip off and modify a line from Lord of the Rings, all that lathers is not soap.
While these products may capture you with their cozy descriptions, according to the ingredients they are anything but gentle. They do cleanse but will also strip your skin of all things good. To emphasis this the FDA publishes the sentiment that there are very few true soaps on the market, most products marketed as “soap”, either in solid or liquid form, are synthetic detergents.
When considering the detergent type ingredients found in some soaps and many body washes, I have one question. Why? We can make a gentle and natural soap from food grade oils that will cleanse your skin with no drawbacks or concerns. Some things are best left to simplicity.
Our suggestion, if you’re having any skin issues or want to avoid future problems, use simple and basic soap. Carefully consider the body wash/gell products. Being a water based product they will (or should) have a preservative. Preservatives have the potential for problems like skin irritation. The simpler solution is a noncommercial bar soap.
3. Pat, Don’t Rub
After showering or washing your hands, simply pat your skin to reduce dampness but not to a point of being totally dry. With a little moisture remaining on your skin, apply your favorite butter or oil.
Lotion and cream are mostly water so we don’t recommend those products at this time. Butters and oils will better lock in that remaining water.
4. Hand Moisturizing
The most common wintertime dry skin issue is rough, cracked, chapped hands.
The problem with our hands. In the cold weather, we know better than to forget our nice comfy gloves. When we do glove-up, slipping a pair on and off several times a day can cause chaffing. Gloves also seem to rob our hands of moisture in already cold and dry air. Combine this with the tendency to come in from the cold and wash with hot water and you have the perfect storm for dry, irritated skin.
I have suggested a routine that has helped folks who have contacted us seeking help. It’s simple, low cost and effective.
First, after washing, lightly pat your hands dry while leaving plenty of water. You will get the feel for the correct dampness level after doing this a few times.
Second, immediately apply some type of oil. Cooking oils straight from the kitchen will work. Olive oil might be a little greasy so use sparingly. Grapeseed oil is a better choice. We formulated a hand and body oil just for the purpose of an optimal balance of protective oil but not greasy.
Third, just take a few moments to allow the oil soak into your skin. If you need a reason to take a brief pause during the day then this is it. Since your hands will have some oil on them, you also have a good reason to take a break from your cell phone as well.
For extra protection and softening try something like shea butter or a salve. Once a day should be adequate in most cases. Similar to the hand washing procedure, get your hands damp with water before applying a small amount. This simply provides some moisture to otherwise dry skin and the butter will slow the evaporation. Or as some say it seals in the moisture. The water trick has a nice side benefit of cutting down on the greasy feel.
Wearing thin cotton gloves after applying oil or butter for additional protection is also an option.
We are not painting a lotion as a product to avoid however we suggest you use them sparingly. Lotions are mostly water with some added oils and other ingredients. On one hand, no pun intended, lotions are similar to the damp skin and oil trick. You just have an all-in-one product with lotion.
This may be the ticket if you need something quick to apply. But stop and look at that bottle for a moment. About 75% of the contents is just ordinary water.
We prefer using oil over lotion for two reasons. First, you are not paying for water and unnecessary random ingredients. Second, preservatives. As mentioned earlier preservatives are required in a water based product and have the potential for skin irritation.
If yourcold winter skin care routine is working, then stick with it. Many people are oing okay but looking for better. For routine hand and body care we hope these suggestions are helpful. We work and educate to make skin care simple and understandable.