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Winterizing Your Skin Boosts Natural Defenses

Updating Your Winter Skin Care Regimen Also Protects Your Health

WebMD Health News

Oct. 13, 2004 (New York) -- You winterize your wardrobe, your car, and even your home. But are you neglecting your most important line of defense against the winter winds, your skin?

"Skin is the natural barrier that prevents other problems or organisms from entering into the skin," says Chérie Ditre, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Skin that's dry, cracked, or irritated is vulnerable to infection, and that's why dermatologists say it's important to change your skin care regimen along with the seasons in order to boost your body's natural defenses.

What works in the warm, humid months of summer may leave your skin dry and chapped during the cold, dry months of winter. In humid conditions, the skin soaks up water from the air, but when the humidity falls the skin loses this natural moisture source.

Ditre and other dermatologists offered their advice for protecting skin from the harsh effects of winter at a briefing in New York City organized by the American Academy of Dermatology.

Hot Showers and Other Skin Care No-No's

The frigid temperatures may make a long, hot bath or shower sound like heaven, but Ditre says hot water can wreak havoc on your skin.

"As the water gets hotter, it evaporates and takes moisture along with it," says Ditre.

Instead, she recommends taking lukewarm showers, patting the skin gently afterward with a towel, and applying a moisturizer within three minutes of stepping out of the shower to lock in moisture. Look for lotions or creams with any of the following ingredients: petrolatum, mineral oil, linoleic acid, ceramides, dimethicone, or glycerin.

Other winter skin-care advice:

  • Wear appropriate clothing to cover skin and protect it from extreme temperatures and wind.
  • Moisturize skin again at bedtime. Wear light cotton socks and gloves after applying lotion or cream for very dry, cracked skin.
  • Use a humidifier in the bedroom or living room once the relative humidity inside drops below 60%.
  • Don't overheat your home. Excessive heat draws moisture out of the skin.
  • Avoid sleeping with an electric blanket.
  • Use a mild soap that is fragrance-free or contains moisturizing ingredients.

Healthy Hands, Healthy Body

Keeping your skin, especially your hands, clean and healthy can also help prevent the spread of common winter illnesses, like colds and flu.

But experts don't recommend going overboard with antibacterial soaps, gels, and wipes because they typically contain a lot of alcohol, which can dry out the skin.

"If you're using antibacterial wipes or something like that, then you need to have something you can lightly moisturize with afterward," says Roger Ceilley, MD, chairman of the council on communications at the American Academy of Dermatology, who also spoke at the briefing. "Otherwise you're stripping away more of the skin's natural oils."

Researchers say washing your hands with plain soap and water will kill most germs and help reduce your risk of getting sick. Using a mild soap or one that contains added moisturizers and warm, not hot, water when washing your hands will also help prevent moisture loss.

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