As the clocks change and we officially enter winter, we must all take extra care of our skin to prevent it drying out, says by Dr Harryono Judodihardjo, medical director of the Cellite Clinic in Cardiff.
Dry skin looks less healthy and attractive than when it’s properly hydrated, and can lead to soreness, irritation and itching.
First of all, don’t forget about sunscreen. It’s very easy to imagine that the sun’s rays are less powerful now that the days are short, but this is far from being the case. The sun is low in the sky at this time of the year, meaning that the sun shines directly on our faces. On a bright, sunny winter’s day we can subject ourselves to a significant dose of damaging UV light.
My advice is to wear sunscreen with a minimum protection factor of SPF15, on a daily basis. As with summer sun defence, you need to ensure that the product you are using gives protection from both UVA and UVB light.
Sunglasses and a hat are also advisable to give further protection from the sun’s harmful rays – especially if lots of outdoor activities are planned.
People planning ski trips need to be particularly careful, not only is the sun bright, we are more likely to burn at high altitude. Furthermore the glare from the sun off the snow means that we burn in places we might not have thought of – the underside of the nose and chin for example.
Eyes need particular protection in bright snowy conditions, and don’t forget that sunlight can creep in from the sides of your shades and damage to your eyes, so wraparound glasses are essential for protection, not just to look cool.
Inadequate eye protection can lead to photokeratitis, or snow blindness, which is an extremely painful condition. Essentially, snow blindness is sunburn of the cornea and conjunctiva. It’s not generally noticed until a few hours after exposure a little like sunburn on the skin, so the damage is occurring without the sufferer noticing until too late.
Ensure that the glasses you buy for skiing have an appropriately high UV filter. And remember, even on cloudy days UV light is filtering through the clouds, and can still cause damage.
Winter sun holidays need to be dealt with carefully too. Having suffered months of chilly weather as well as a wet summer, it’s very tempting to bake in the sunshine when we escape to warmer climes. But pale winter skin is very vulnerable to burning, so the usual precautions need to be taken – making sure that the skin is protected with high protection factor sunscreen, that exposure to ultraviolet light is limited and damage minimised by wearing a hat and sunglasses.
Even if off-season Mediterranean sunshine is less powerful than that during the baking summer days, it is still strong. What’s more, you don’t need to be lying on the beach to be vulnerable, soaking up the rays on an outdoor terrace as you sip coffee or eat lunch can still result in scorched skin.
During crisp, dry weather, it’s obvious that the cool winds and low temperatures are going to impact on our skin, but even on a normal winter’s day, the humidity in the atmosphere is less than that of a summer’s day – consequently having a drying effect on the skin.
Furthermore, the central heating in our offices and homes, blasting out all winter long, parches the skin still further. Electric blow heaters are prime culprits for their desiccating effect on the body’s largest external organ, and their use should be avoided if at all possible.
Given these factors, we all need to take extra care of our skin in winter, ensuring that it is adequately moisturised and defended from the sun’s rays, but people suffering from eczema and psoriasis need to take even greater precautions.
The combined elements of low humidity, cold drying winds and central heating, mean that a flare-up is far more likely to occur in winter.
Extra moisturising, preferably with a product containing high levels of oil, helps keep the skin supple. Ointments have a higher oil content than creams and can therefore stay in the skin longer.
Apply the moisturiser immediately after a bath or shower – while the skin is still damp – to help trap the moisture in the skin before it evaporates.
Using a soap with a high moisturising element is worth considering, as is adding oil to the bath water. However, don’t use anything with a fragrance as this might aggravate the condition.
Eczema and psoriasis
For eczema and psoriasis sufferers, moisturising creams that are specifically designed to help retain the skin’s moisture can be purchased from pharmacies.
These often contain a product called urea, known for its moisture retaining properties. Urea is a compound found naturally in the human body. Scientists call it a humectant because it can draw moisture from the air to the skin.
Urea is naturally present in healthy skin, but in particularly dry skin, or in the case of psoriasis and eczema sufferers, urea levels are reduced. Specialist products help replenish what has been lost.
Lips are very vulnerable to chapping during the winter months, so buy a good lip balm with a sun protection built in, or purchase a high protection factor sunscreen stick.
Exposure to ultra violet light can lead to painful and unsightly ‘cold sores’. These are caused by the herpes simplex virus. The virus passes through the skin and hides in the nerve root until it’s activated by common triggers such as bright sunlight and cold winds.
And another tip, people with dry or irritated skin need to wear a cotton based lining in their clothes so that their problems are not aggravated by warm but prickly woolly outer layers.
Lastly, we must all remember to drink water. We may feel less like having a glass of cool liquid when the temperatures plummet, but keeping up our fluid intake is important.