Heat up your skin routine

Tue, Nov 27, 2012, 00:00

As the temperature drops and the frost bites, drink lots of water and moisturise with a rich ‘winter coat’, writes ALANNA GALLAGHER

It’s cold, wet and windy outside. Inside the central heating is cranked up to 11 and our days are spent wrapping and unwrapping winter layers as we come in from the cold. The contrasting heat and cold, the harsh wind and a tendency to hibernate all affect our skin, the body’s largest organ.

So how do we protect it? Central heating dries the skin, says Des Tobin, professor of cell biology and director of the centre for skin science at the University of Bradford.

“The air should be no lower than 35 to 40 per cent humidity. Central heating reduces humidity to 25 per cent.” Putting a bowl of water on the heater or using a humidifier will rebalance the levels, he says.

To combat the dry air Dr Howard Murad, the LA-based dermatologist whose eponymous line is popular with celebrities such as Kim Cattrall and Renée Zellweger, believes you that need a richer “winter coat” type moisturiser on the surface of the skin.

Consultant dermatologist Dr Rosemary Coleman at the Blackrock Clinic says winterproofing should start with preventing sun damage. “In winter the UVB levels go down but the UVA levels don’t and you can get these through the office window and the windscreen of your car. By wearing a sunscreen all year round, not just on holidays, you reduce the risk of skin cancer.”

With thousands of moisturisers on the market, it is trial and error as to which one will work for you. What you can buy in your chemist is better than the products on display at your beauty counter where you’re paying for perfume and fancy packaging, Coleman says. “Pharmacy-based lines are made to an extremely high standard.”

Drink enough

You moisturise the skin from inside by drinking, says Murad. The epidermis accounts for 20 per cent of the skin. The other 80 per cent is internal so hydration starts inside the body. Eat your water, is Murad’s mantra. “Water-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables are healthier for your skin than just water, because they are full of phytonutrients and antioxidants.”

Smoking, excess alcohol, over sun exposure, poor diet, lack of sleep, stress and genetics all contribute to the look and feel of your skin says Aveen Bannon, consultant dietitian and founder of the Dublin Nutrition Centre. “Antioxidants in the diet are the foot soldiers in the fight against free radicals, a byproduct of metabolism. You will find them in fruit and vegetables, proteins, vitamins and seeds.” She doesn’t discount supplements but says that they won’t give you the phytochemicals that you get in fresh fruit and vegetables.

Vitamin C helps maintain the skin. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2008 higher vitamin C intakes were associated with a lower likelihood of a wrinkled appearance.

The water type you use also affects your skin, says Tobin. “Normal healthy skin has a ph of 5.5 or 6. A drive into the alkaline zone sees increasing frequencies of eczema.” In winter less contact with soap is better for the skin, Tobin says. “Soap typically has a ph of 10. A soap with a ph of 5.5 or 6 is worth investigating.” He advises against washing your face in hot water as it steals moisture from the skin and to moisturise your body within minutes of bathing. He also counsels against the overuse of detergents because “they can be harsh on skin”. He recommends wearing gloves when dishwashing and using less detergent in the washing machine.

Ulcer risk

For older people, good hydration levels – one to 1½ litres of fluids a day – will reduce the risk of ulcers and chilblains.

Your legs dry out as you get older, says Coleman. “Dry skin can get crusty and is then easy to nick. The nick can get infected and this can lead to an ulcer. Go to the section of the chemist that deals with children with eczema and buy a generic aqueous cream and apply to bare legs and leave for half an hour.”

She suggests doing this in the kitchen and spending the time reading the paper. “After 30 minutes fill a bucket with warm water and put your legs into the water and wash off the cream using a gently abrasive cloth like a facecloth. Do this on a weekly basis and the skin will improve. Then reduce the bathing to once a month.”

In our long winters of low sunshine a lot of people are vitamin D deficient, Coleman says adding that: “Vitamin D is important for the health of the body and the bones as well as the skin.”

Sleep is also important for skin , Dr Marilyn Grenville, author of Fat Around The Middle notes. “We don’t use the switch-off button enough. Our circadian rhythm has changed. In our caveman days we went to bed when the day ended.”

To signal the body to go into relax mode she suggests switching phones and iPads off an hour before bed. She cautions against using your phone as an alarm clock. “Use an old-fashioned design instead,” she says.

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