Winter Skin Care Questions & Answers

The cold winter weather can wreak havoc on your skin. Chapped lips, dry hair and cracked hands are just some of the things we deal with during the long winter months. But is moisturizer enough? You may be washing your hands more often to combat winter colds, but is all that washing making your hands dry? William Huang, MD, dermatologist, has answered your winter skin questions.

I wash my hands a lot in the winter to ward off winter colds, but the antibacterial soap makes my hands really dry. What can I do to combat this?

Hand washing is a great measure to help prevent the person-to-person spread of bacteria and viruses. By applying a thick moisturizer after washing your hands, you can help keep them soft and keep them from over drying.

Try to avoid overuse of instant hand sanitizers as they often contain alcohol-based products which can dry out your skin.

What can I do about dry, frizzy hair in the cold months?

The hair and scalp are particularly susceptible to the winter weather elements. A moisturizing shampoo followed by a moisturizing conditioner can help keep your hair from getting too dry and frizzy. Also consider a leave-in conditioner.

Are there certain kinds of skin moisturizers that work better than others?

In general, ointments are better moisturizers than creams which are better than lotions due to the overall proportion of water and oil. Active ingredients typically fall into 1 of 2 categories: occlusives and humectants.

Occlusive ingredients serve to prevent the loss of moisture already on the skin. Some examples include petrolatum, mineral oil, dimethicone and ceramides.

Humectants attract moisture from the environment to help restore the skin barrier. Some examples include glycerin, urea, propylene glycol, hyaluronic acid and sorbitol.

I have heard that showering too often can dry out your skin. Is this true? Should I use bar soap or body wash?

Most individuals experience some extent of dry skin during the winter. I usually recommend short showers (less than 10 minutes) in warm (not hot) water. Prolonged exposure to hot water can lead to the loss of natural lipids in the skin.

Not all soaps are created equally. Many of the original cleansers are "true" soaps that have a higher pH and can lead to skin barrier disruption. Newer cleansers incorporate various skin conditioners, have a lower more physiologic pH, and have a lower concentration of harsh cleansers. Body washes allow the simultaneous action of skin cleansing and moisturization not possible in a bar soap.

I have seen a lot of beauty products with mint in them lately. Are there actually benefits to using products with mint or is this just a trend?

The use of mint in various beauty products provides little additional benefit to skin and hair care. Many people enjoy the fresh smell of mint extract and the tingling sensation of mint when applied to shampoos and moisturizers.

No matter how much lip balm I use during the winter, my lips still get chapped. Is there anything I can do to prevent this?

Frequent application of a lip moisturizer is important if they become cracked, red or fissured. Although it is a natural tendency when the lips are dry, people should avoid licking their lips as this can lead to worsening of their symptoms known as lip licker’s dermatitis.

Also try to use the simplest products possible, as people can be allergic to the additives and flavorings in lip balm products.

What do you recommend for those who have rosacea that seems to get worse in the winter?

Although the temperatures are cooler, people are still exposed to ultraviolet sunlight during the winter months which can exacerbate rosacea. I recommend the daily application of a facial sunscreen of at least SPF 30. Many facial moisturizers and cosmetic products now incorporate sunscreen into their formulations. In addition, many skin care products can worsen rosacea due to irritation from ingredients such as alcohol, witch hazel, fragrance, menthol, peppermint and eucalyptus oil.

My mother used to put Vaseline on her hands and feet before going to sleep in the winter. Does this actually work?

The best time to apply a moisturizer is right after bathing as this gives you a chance to trap some of the moisture already on the skin. Applying a thick emollient at night can give the skin on the hands and feet a chance to repair itself.

I often recommend applying the moisturizer under occlusion (cotton gloves and socks) as this helps the product stay on the skin and keeps it from rubbing off.

I like to keep my home nice and toasty during the cold months, but I don’t want to dry out my skin. Is there a certain temperature I should set my thermostat to?

In general, the warmer the thermostat is set to, the dryer the air will be in the home environment. To help replace some of the lost moisture, a room vaporizer or room humidifier can significantly help with the air being too dry.