Winter of Skin Content
As we continue to wait out the global health crisis, the seasons have changed again. In the southern hemisphere Autumn has given way to Winter. The days are much cooler and the air is much drier.
At this time of the year moisture levels in the air are lower because cold air holds less water vapour than warm air does. Even when the rain falls the air itself is dry.
In winter we also we spend more time indoors in artificial environments with heating systems which remove the moisture from the air and blow out warm, dry air.
It is the lack of humidity that dries our skin. The absence of moisture in the air causes the moisture in our skin to evaporate more quickly. In addition, activities which heat the body, such as hot showers and exercise, bring warmth and moisture to the surface of the skin where, when exposed to dry air, it evaporates quickly leaving the skin dehydrated.
The most superficial layer of the skin is the epidermis. The epidermis is composed of skin cells, lipid (fat) and protein which form a protective barrier. Under the epidermis is the thickest layer of the skin, the dermis. The dermis contains collagen protein, which provides most of the skins structure, and holds a lot of the body’s water content.
In skin dehydration, the epidermal skin cells lose water, causing them to shrink. This shrinkage creates gaps between the cells which allows moisture to evaporate from the deeper layers of the skin . Dry skin may feel tight, rough, flaky or itchy and is more sensitive and prone to rashes.
For people with eczema, (atopic dermatitis), skin dryness can trigger an eczema flare-up. In eczema, irregular skin barrier function leaves dry skin vulnerable to penetration by environmental allergens. In an eczema flare up, irritants stimulate an immune response which causes inflammation and the release of chemicals that cause the skin to become itchy. Scratching stimulates more chemicals to be released and the itch becomes exponential. During a flare up, inflamed areas of skin affected by eczema may crack and bleed and there is a high risk of bacterial infection.
So, how can you prevent your skin from drying out in Winter?
1. Stay Hydrated. In winter, sweat evaporates from the skin much faster than it does in summer so it important to keep replacing fluids throughout the day. Water does not have to be cold to be hydrating. You can increase your water intake by drinking herbal teas, bone broth (with the added bonus of being rich in collagen-building nutrients to support skin integrity), soups, miso soup (a great source of immune- supportive probiotics), and by eating fruit and vegetables with high water content (celery, cucumber, apples, watermelon etc). Limit your intake of alcohol as it is a diuretic and contributes to dehydration.
2. Healthy fats. Healthy fats come from whole food sources. They help reduce inflammation and support the skins protective lipid barrier to prevent moisture loss. Healthy fats include: Monounsaturated fats from cold-pressed olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, Saturated fats from free-range, grass-fed meat or lard, coconut oil and ghee, and Polyunsaturated fats which are Omega 3 fats and Omega 6 fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory so eat plenty of oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring as well as walnuts, hempseeds, flaxseed oil, chia seeds
(For more about healthy fats read my Essential Guide to Oils here)
3. Vitamin C + Vitamin A. These antioxidant vitamins support skin cell production and collagen synthesis, and protect cells from damage caused by hash environmental conditions. Preservation of skin barrier integrity is essential to prevent loss of moisture from the deeper layers of skin. Vitamins A and C are found in brightly coloured vegetables: carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, dark green leafy vegetables, red capsicum, turmeric, beetroot etc.
4. Minerals. Zinc, Copper and Selenium have important roles in maintaining skin health. These essential minerals are protective antioxidants and are involved in the production of collagen, which supports skin barrier integrity. Zinc, copper and selenium are found in seafood, meat, legumes, pumpkin seeds, whole grains and eggs. Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium.
5. Proteins: Lysine. Proteins are used in tissue synthesis and repair and provide structure to the skin’s protective barrier layer. Lysine is an essential amino acid which is a building block of collagen, the main skin barrier protein. Foods rich in lysine include red meat, poultry, cheese (especially Parmesan), sardines, eggs, tofu and nuts.
6. Moisturisers. Moisturisers help to reduce skin dryness by creating a seal to support the skin barrier and prevent moisture loss. When choosing a moisturiser, choose a cream or ointment, which have a high oil content and therefore provide better barrier support than a lotion, which has a higher water content. Look for a cream or ointment that contains natural oils such as olive oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, almond oil or shea butter (always take note of product ingredients if you have allergies). Apply moisturiser immediately after you towel-dry after your shower or bath to trap moisture in the skin. If the cream feels sticky on your skin, allow time for it to be absorbed.
7. Avoid: Skin care products that contain alcohol, fragrance, retinoids, or alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) as these can cause skin drying and be irritating to dry, sensitive skin. Avoid going out into cold and dry air after your shower, keep the bathroom door closed to keep the steam in while you dry yourself and apply moisturiser.
There are, of course, many other factors that contribute to eczema and other skin conditions. If you are struggling to manage your skin, book in for a free, 10 minute Discovery Call to find out how I can help.